Exultant on the road to adulation in Sunday’s Jockey Club Cup

By David Morgan

Adulation has not poured down on Exultant – not yet, at least – but trainer Tony Cruz believes the talented stayer is advancing with muted intent towards December’s LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m).

“He’ll almost win it – I really believe that,” the trainer said of next month’s HK$20 million contest.

First, though, Sunday’s BOCHK Jockey Club Cup will pitch the Teofilo gelding against his lauded stablemate and fellow Vase candidate Pakistan Star. And while the 2000 metres of this weekend’s contest will be a suitable test for both horses, all sense says that the stamina-laden Exultant will relish that and more.

So far this season, the Irish import has stepped out twice, staying on to fifth in the Sha Tin Trophy Handicap at a mile, and, two weekends back, placing fourth in the Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse Handicap (1800m).

“All he needs is a distance,” Cruz said. “Sunday’s race will be more suitable for him and then he’ll get the distance he needs in the Vase, so that’s where we’re heading.”

Pakistan Star is unquestionably the Cruz stable’s standout contender for the Hong Kong Vase, a race Hong Kong has captured only twice from 24 editions. Exultant, though, has already shown abundant promise.

The bay ran with merit yet without panache in last season’s Four-Year-Old Series, but advanced to win a pair of late season contests either side of a fine second in the Champions & Chater Cup (2400m), a length and three quarters behind Pakistan Star. The first of those Pattern wins was a six-length demolition of his rivals in the Queen Mother Memorial Cup Handicap (2400m).

“He’s a much stronger horse than last season, he’s getting better,” Cruz said of the 2017 Irish 2,000 Guineas third.

And with a low-key preparation showing a steady upward curve into the weekend, the handler is delighted with where he finds his charge.

“His condition leading into this race is fantastic, I’m very happy with him and if he can run a place on Sunday I’ll be satisfied with that,” he said.

Local rider Vincent Ho, fourth in the premiership with 13 wins and battling for a LONGINES IJC berth, has been in the plate for Exultant’s two runs this term and will keep the ride on Sunday. Cruz sprinkled a shower of praise his way.

“Vincent will ride him, I’m happy to have him – he’s the best local rider now, in my opinion,” he said.

Fownes says Southern Legend ready to step up

By Steve Moran

Trainer Caspar Fownes is confident his Group 1 miler Southern Legend is ready to turn around an indifferent start to the season in Sunday’s BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Mile (1600m) at Sha Tin.

“I’d be disappointed if he didn’t finish in the first three. His coat’s come good, in fact it’s immaculate now after he just wasn’t quite there for his two runs this time around. You’d swear he thinks he’s in Australia and coming into summer because that’s how well he’s done over the past couple of weeks,” Fownes said.

Jockey Douglas Whyte described last season’s Singapore Kranji Mile (1600m) winner as finishing ‘one paced’ at his second run this term when five lengths eighth to Beauty Generation in the Celebration Cup Handicap (1400m) at Sha Tin but Fownes insists the horse has trained on and will be better placed at Sunday’s longer trip.

“He’s generally had a good prep and has improved since his last run. He looks a treat now and gets his chance at the mile. We’ll have him there on Sunday in great order with just a hint of improvement left for the big day,” he said in reference to the LONGINES Hong Kong.

Southern Legend is not yet an unconditional Group 1 winner, but he has established his bona fides at the level via his length and three-quarter third to Beauty Generation in the Champions Mile and a one-length fourth to Season’s Bloom in the Stewards’ Cup earlier this year.

Those performances are two of his only three starts at the course and distance – with the other being a short-head victory over Pingwu Spark in a Class 1 handicap in March. That came two months before his Singapore success, after which the LONGINES Hong Kong Mile was immediately declared his target.

Fownes said, at the time: “Now he can go and enjoy his summer break before coming back to mix it with the big boys. Everything will be focused towards December at Sha Tin.”

It was Fownes’ fourth victory in Singapore having won the International Sprint there with Green Birdie in 2010 and Lucky Nine in 2013 and 2014.

Sunday’s fixture has also been kind to Fownes with the Jockey Club Mile success of The Duke in 2004; Jockey Club Cup wins with Thumbs Up (2011) and Military Attack (2015), and the evergreen Lucky Nine winning the Jockey Club Sprint in 2012.