Exultant builds towards FWD QEII Cup defence, trials on the turf
Exultant, the tough kingpin of Hong Kong’s staying division, took a crucial step closer in his bid to become the second horse in history - after Eishin Preston in 2003 - to successfully defend his crown in Sunday week’s (25 April) HK$25 million G1 FWD QEII Cup (2000m) with a smart trial effort at Sha Tin this morning (Tuesday, 13 April).
With five G1s and HK$81.4 million in the bag, the rising seven-year-old, adored by Hong Kong as one of the jurisdictions greatest ever stayers, tuned up with a smart second-past-the-post effort as Packing Waltham led home a Tony Cruz-trained first three in 1m 38.16s (1600m) while fellow FWD QEII Cup contender, Furore, filled third.
Rolling forward from the break under the hands of Zac Purton, the Teofilo seven-year-old stretched out for a solid hit out under light urgings from the four-time champion jockey.
“He jumped out well, he cruised along and I let him go whatever speed he wanted to go and he did what he always does,” Purton said. “He kept galloping along in the straight, he’s honest, he feels alright, he’s got a chance in the race but he is getting older, it is getting hard for him but in saying that he’s just so honest, he always gives his best.”
The now 127-rater boasts a record earmarked by consistency, he’s finished inside the top-three 26 times from 30 runs in Hong Kong, including 11 wins and 11 seconds.
“He always gets out of rhythm and switches off when he is on the dirt, especially over 1200 metres - he’s a different animal on the grass,” Purton said.
And, while he nears the twilight of his career as an ageing superstar, he is readying for what is shaping up to be one of his toughest test to dates as he leads the home team against a strong arsenal from Japan, featuring last year’s Japanese Fillies’ Triple Crown winner Daring Tact, 2019 G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m) victor Glory Vase, last month’s G1 Dubai Sheema Classic (2410m) runner-up Loves Only You as well as Kiseki, winner of the 2017 G1 Kikuka Sho (3000m).
“He’s shown that he’s in form, he’ll be ready for the 25th,” Cruz said. “His last race was the Hong Kong Gold Cup, so he needs a trial like that to get him right for race day.”
Exultant is currently Hong Kong’s third highest all-time prize money earner behind Beauty Generation (HK$106.2 million) and Viva Pataca (HK$83.1 million).
Furore, the 2019 BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) hero - who is a winner at G2 and G3 level this season - is looking to go one better in this month’s FWD QEII Cup after narrowly missing by a short head to Golden Sixty in February’s G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m).
“Furore, I’m very happy with him too, if Joao’s (Moreira) happy, I’m happy,” Cruz said.
Brazilian ace Joao Moreira partnered the Pierro gelding in this morning’s trial.
“It was pretty good, he was left in the gates for too long so he didn’t really jump very well but during the trial he travelled very comfortably and I crossed the line with plenty of horse underneath,” Moreira said. “I’m quite excited to see how he performs on the big day.”
Time Warp, Cruz’s dual Hong Kong Gold Cup victor, forms a three-pronged assault for the handler in the FWD QEII Cup.
“Time Warp, he’ll be leading in the big race, I hope he can place, this will be his last season of racing though, he might have a few more races but if he doesn’t perform well enough then we might cut it short,” Cruz said.
Packing Waltham, first-past-the-post in this morning’s exercise, is heading towards the G3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup Handicap (2400m) on Sunday, 2 May as indicated by Cruz.
Kiseki for Schofield, Rattan returns
Chad Schofield is looking forward to partnering Japan’s Kiseki in Sunday week’s G1 FWD QEII Cup (2000m) - the gelding’s second sortie in Hong Kong - with the possibility of joining his father Glyn Schofield on the race’s honour roll after he succeeded in 2004 atop River Dancer for trainer John Size.
“He’s obviously a very good horse and I think this QEII he is right in it, he’s an older horse but let’s hope he can come to Hong Kong and put his best foot forward,” Schofield said.
The son of Rulership’s first foray in Hong Kong returned a weakening ninth - following a mid-race move - to Highland Reel in the 2017 G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m) when second favourite.
Though, around this blip, his record boasts a G1 triumph and a string of top-level placings behind Almond Eye, Al Ain, Lys Gracieux, Waldgeist, Chrono Genesis and Glory Vase.
This morning at Sha Tin, Schofield, 27, guided familiar ally Rattan down the straight in his first barrier trial since his breaking his right proximal tibia.
“It was his first trial back for a while but he was nice and free in his action and he’ll take plenty of benefit from that run,” Schofield said.
“He’s had a nice break now, he seems to be over the injury because he’s nice and free in his action, so hopefully Richard (Gibson) can get him primed for the race.”
With Hong Kong’s sprint division wide open, Schofield remains hopeful that the Savabeel gelding can come to the fore in the G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m) after finishing third in last December’s G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) to Danon Smash, who he meets again in 12 days’ time.
“He’s beaten Mr Stunning, he’s been competitive in a Hong Kong Sprint, so he’s right up there with them and at his best he’s definitely capable of beating them, let’s just hope he can get back to that level,” the 27-year-old said.
Since returning from a back injury in early March, Schofield has posted three winners including a double last Sunday (11 April) aboard a pair of youngsters, namely Fantastic Treasure who was the beneficiary of a sublime steer from the South African rider.
“It is difficult because perception is key in Hong Kong and people are reluctant to throw support at you because they want to see you at your best first,” Schofield said.
“You lose all the rides you had while you’re out and then it takes a while to get back to where you were,” he added, highlighting the difficulties of an extended period on the sideline.
Schofield currently has 197 wins in Hong Kong across his career, aided largely by the career-high 43 successes he tallied last season.