Zac Purton believes Exultant will have to be on his game from the off if he is to bounce back to winning form in Sunday’s FWD QEII Cup at Sha Tin.
The six-year-old suffered a surprise defeat at the hands of his fellow Tony Cruz-trained inmate Time Warp last time out, when he narrowly failed to reel in his front-running rival in February’s Hong Kong Gold Cup.
Exultant, a three-times Group One winner and third in the Irish 2,000 Guineas as Irishcorrespondent when trained by Mick Halford, was beaten three-quarters of a length that day and big-race rider Purton is hoping for a bit more pace from the start this time, in a race that will be live on Sky Sports Racing.
He said: “There really isn’t much speed in this race though and there are one or two back markers, which really is a concern again – my bloke really needs to step away better than he did last time, he was quite lazy out of the gates. But in his trial he did get away better, which was nice.
“Hopefully, if he can do that, we can be racing fourth or fifth, or even sixth – that would be a good position to be in the small field. But if we were last, the alarm bells would be ringing.”
Exultant had to settle for second in this race last year and big-race jockey Purton is hoping the recent spell of wet weather will recede to enhance his chances of righting the record.
He added: “I’m not sure if he’ll enjoy it wet. I would be a little bit concerned because he trials so badly on the dirt and that can sometimes give you a bit of an indication.
“But, in saying that, (top miler) Beauty Generation trials awful on the dirt and he doesn’t mind a bit of cut in the ground.
“I don’t want to go out there thinking it’s going to affect his performance, but there is that slight doubt in my mind.”
Cruz would also prefer quicker ground for his charge, adding: “I’d rather it was the usual going, I was hoping for a good track as normal because when you get different going you don’t know what might happen, you can get different results.”
As well as Time Warp, Cruz saddles Furore, the 2019 Hong Kong Derby winner who transferred from the Frankie Lor stable before finishing fourth to Beauty Generation in the Chairman’s Trophy over a mile last time.
Cruz said: “Furore is coming along, he’s the best I’ve seen him so I think he’ll be there in the finish. He can be right there challenging, I’m sure he can.”
The Danny Shum-trained Playa Del Puente is another former Halford inmate and defied huge odds to run the brilliant Golden Sixty to a neck in the Hong Kong Derby last time out.
He will again be ridden by Blake Shinn, who said: “It was a bittersweet feeling to run second beaten so narrowly – a neck – in what some would say is the biggest race in Hong Kong. We got beat by Golden Sixty and he’s the champion horse of his age group.
“I think he’s got a big race in him. Whether he can do it in this race against the seasoned horses, time will tell, but we’ll give it our best shot.”
John Moore fields Eagle Way, who will be partnered by Neil Callan, while the Tony Millard-trained pair of Glorious Dragon and Elusive State complete the seven-strong field.