Champion jockey Zac Purton thinks it will be tough for Exultant to defend his Group Three Centenary Vase (1,800m) title with the star stayer needing to overcome a host of obstacles to salute again, including a significant weight disadvantage.
Tony Cruz’s gelding cruised to an easy victory in last year’s renewal, but with two more Group Ones under his belt since then, he has to give all of his 10 rivals at least a 13-pound head start at the weights on Monday.
After finishing third in the Group Three Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse (1,800m) when he resumed in November, Exultant came out and won the Group Two Jockey Club Cup (2,000m) second-up before coming third in December’s Group One Hong Kong Vase (2,400m) behind Glory Vase.
He’s had two quiet trials since then and Purton is unsure about how he will handle the drop back in trip.
“He’s been extremely dour since the Vase in those two trials,” the jockey said. “He hasn’t shown any speed at all.
“He is what he is, but hopefully they run along at a nice enough tempo to allow his stamina to come into play.
“It’s never easy having to carry top weight in these races, especially coming off two strong performances at his past two starts.
“He really had to find everything he could second-up this season when he was able to win and I think that took a lot out of him and he had another hard run in the Vase.
“I thought he was going really, really well early in the season. He was showing more speed in his trials than he had previously. I just think that run over 2,000m took a lot out of him. We just need to see if he shows that spark again.”
At this stage, the plan is for Exultant to race in the Group One Hong Kong Gold Cup (2,000m) next month before an assault on the Group One Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan on World Cup night.
So even though it is clear this is not his grand final, Purton has no question marks over his class if things fall his way.
“It’s not his preferred distance, it’s not really a suitable race for him, but he’s honest, he’s going to try his best and if the circumstances permit, he’s going to have a chance,” he said.
“The horse feels well within himself, he’s very honest – I’m sure he will run well.”
Purton takes a full book of 11 rides into Monday’s card, including Peter Ho Leung’s youngster Rich And Lucky, who took out the HK$2 million Griffin Trophy (1,400m) last start.
While the restricted race looked pretty week on paper, the four-year-old won convincingly and the Australian thinks he has a lot of upside.
“I think every year you can try to poke holes in the Griffin races but year after year it stands up and horses do end up being quite solid animals,” Purton said.
“He did it on raw ability. We’re far from seeing the best of him, it feels like he’s going to be a miler or even beyond. To be able to win early in his season was a good effort. He’s going to be a better horse next season.”