He walked away happy when Exultant copped gate 14 for last year’s Group One Hong Kong Vase so it was never going to take much to please Tony Cruz at Thursday morning’s barrier draw at Sha Tin.
And with the five-time Group One winner facing only six rivals as he bids to become the first local horse to win the 2,400m contest twice, Cruz expects things to sort themselves out fairly quickly when Exultant breaks from gate five come Sunday.
“In a 2,400m race and a field of seven, it’s no difference [which barrier he gets] really,” Cruz said. “He’ll be going to do his own business, maybe to lead the race – if the pace is not on we should lead the race.
“I’m very happy with the draw and I’m very happy with his condition leading up to his race. He’s fit and ready,” Cruz added of Exultant, who finished third behind Japanese raider Glory Vase from the outside alley 12 months ago.
Exultant snared the 2018 Vase to become one of only three Hong Kong-trained horses to win the race – along with Indigenous in 1998 and Dominant in 2013 – and the six-year-old is favourite to repeat the dose on the weekend.
His main opposition comes from the Aidan O’Brien-trained Mogul, with the three-year-old colt drawing directly inside Exultant in gate four.
Irishman O’Brien trained the last two-time winner of the race, with Highland Reel saluting in 2015 and 2017, and Mogul enters the Vase after victory in the Group One Grand Prix de Paris in September (2,400m) and fifth in last month’s Group One Breeders’ Cup Turf (2,400m).
Columbus County is a clear third elect with overseas fixed-odds bookmakers and trainer Caspar Fownes was thrilled to see his five-year-old land barrier one.
“It’s a beautiful gate, even though it’s 2,400m I wanted a soft gate just so it gives Joao [Moreira] the option to be leader’s back,” Fownes said.
“He’d have probably as good a turn of foot as anything in the race, it’s just whether he’s at that level just now. He’s come a long way in a short period of time but I still think he’ll run a big race.”
Cruz also has the leading local hope in the Hong Kong Cup (2,000m), with Furore to jump from gate five against well-credentialed raiders Magical, Win Bright, Skalleti and Danon Premium.
“Five is very good, Furore will be sitting at the back and [stablemate] Time Warp will lead the race [from gate two]. I’m very happy with his draw, no complaints. Both horses are in good shape,” Cruz said.
Computer Patch has drawn 11 for the Sprint and Cruz said Alexis Badel is likely to go forward on the speedster.
“He’s showed a lot more speed this season than ever before so I think that’s the way to ride him, he’s a real sprinter,” he said.
Everest winner Classique Legend will jump from the inside alley and Fownes hopes jockey Vincent Ho Chak-yiu can settle the striking grey somewhere near midfield.
“I was really hoping for gate five, to tell you the truth – he’s a horse that needs a bit of room,” Fownes said. “He’ll be ridden to get his chance and well see what happens.
“He won’t be hassled out of the gates early, he’ll be back in midfield and we’ve just go to hope the legendary Hong Kong pace is on, like it always is, and then it’s up to Vincent to ride his race.”
Ho will also partner Golden Sixty, with the star of Hong Kong racing drawing comfortably enough in seven for the Mile.