Tony Cruz doubts there will be a hat-trick of Group Three Centenary Vase (1,800m) wins for Exultant, with the legendary trainer anointing Furore the pick of his trio ahead of Sunday’s race at Sha Tin.
Five-time Group One winner Exultant has made this race his own in recent seasons but Cruz conceded anything short of 2,000m is likely now too sharp for his champion.
“I don’t think he can win again, he’s carrying the top weight and he definitely doesn’t have the speed,” Cruz said of Exultant, who finished second behind Aidan O’Brien’s Mogul in last month’s Group One Hong Kong Vase (2,400m).
It's Mogul's Vase!— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) December 13, 2020
Ryan Moore & Aidan O'Brien combine to win their third HK$20 million G1 @LONGINES Hong Kong Vase after Highland Reel succeeded in 2015 + 2017. #HKIR #HKracing pic.twitter.com/eAfI3xSHhJ
“Exultant needs at least 2,000m to be a chance, 1,800m is definitely too short for him. Last year when he won he beat Glorious Dragon but this time it’s a stronger field – Furore is there.”
Zac Purton takes the ride on Exultant for the 16th consecutive time and is chasing a 12th win on the gelding, who jumps from barrier three in the 10-horse field.
“He’s probably not racing at the same level this season as he was last season, he’s getting older but he’s still racing honestly and giving everything he’s got,” the jockey said.
“The other horses have to be able to beat him, he’s still going to run a good, honest race and if they don’t turn up he could have his day again.
“He clearly hasn’t shown us his best form yet this season but he’s the type of horse who could turn it on at any time.”
Furore runs in the race for the first time but is proven at the distance after saluting in November’s Group Three Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse under Joao Moreira.
The Magic Man is again in the saddle and while Furore will carry six pounds more than what he did in November’s contest, Cruz is confident the 2019 Hong Kong Derby winner can deliver again.
Three G1 winners on show in the G3 Centenary Vase and LONGINES Hong Kong Vase hero Exultant gives Tony Cruz his 1200th winner as a trainer in dramatic style, powering home from the rear in a strongly-run race having been squeezed badly at the start. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/utnHIZb17U— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) January 27, 2019
“He’s the best of my three. He’s won at the trip before and I’m happy with him,” he said.
Completing the trainer’s three-pronged attack is Time Warp, with Cruz hopeful the eight-year-old can remain competitive as his career winds down.
“This will be his last season so we hope to get some results with him – if he can run a place I will be very happy,” he said.
Glorious Dragon again lines up after moving from Tony Millard to Francis Lui Kin-wai and looks a live chance with only 113 pounds on his back under Matthew Poon Ming-fai.
Vase third placegetter Columbus County is also in the field, as well as Savvy Nine, Harmony Victory, Chefano, Ho Ho Khan and Singapore Sling.
The race is the main lead-up for the Group One Hong Kong Gold Cup (2,000m) on February 21 and provided they get through Sunday’s contest unscathed, all three of Cruz’s runners will push onto next month’s race.
While Time Warp is the defending champion after a shock victory last season, Cruz is confident his reigning Horse of the Year can add a sixth top-level success to his resume with a second Gold Cup victory to go with his win in 2019.
“I still have confidence in Exultant, for me Exultant is still the top chance in that race,” he said.