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Exultant builds towards FWD QEII Cup defence, trials on the turf

April 14, 2021, 7:47:01 AM

Exultant, the rugged kingpin of Hong Kong's staying division, moved a bit closer to becoming 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 this morning at Sha Tin (Tuesday, 13 April).

The emerging seven-year-old, adored by Hong Kong as one of the jurisdiction's best 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), with fellow FWD QEII Cup challenger, Furore, filling eighth.

With five G1s and HK$81.4 million in the bank, the improving seven-year-old, adored by Hong Kong as one of the jurisdiction's best 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 challenger, Furore, finished seventh.

Rolling out from the break in the stable of Zac Purton, the Teofilo seven-year-old reached out for a good hit out against the four-time champion jockey's soft urgings.

“He shot out well, he cruised along, and I let him go at whatever pace he wanted to go, and he did as he always does,” Purton said. “He kept galloping around in the straight, he's honest, he feels okay, he's got a chance in the run, so he's getting older, it's getting harder for him, but he's just so honest, he really gives his best.”

The now 127-rater has a consistent record, finishing inside the top three 26 times from 30 runs in Hong Kong, including 11 wins and 11 seconds.

“He still gets out of sync and turns off when he is on the dirt, particularly over 1200 meters – he's a different animal on the grass,” Purton said.

And, as he approaches the end of his career as an aging legend, he is preparing for what is shaping up to be one of his most difficult tests to date, as he leads the home team against a formidable Japanese arsenal that includes last year's Japanese Fillies' Triple Crown champion Daring Tact, 2019 G1 LONGINES Glory Vase, winner of the Hong Kong Vase (2400m), Loves Just You, runner-up in last month's G1 Dubai Sheema Classic (2410m), and Kiseki, winner of the 2017 G1 Kikuka Sho (3000m).

“He's shown that he's in shape, and he'll be set for the 25th,” Cruz said. “His most recent race was the Hong Kong Gold Cup, so a trial like that will get him ready for race day.”

Exultant is currently the third highest all-time prize money earner in Hong Kong, behind only Beauty Generation (HK$106.2 million) and Viva Pataca (HK$83.1 million).

Furore, the 2019 BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) winner who has already won at G2 and G3 stage this season, is aiming to go one better in this month's FWD QEII Cup after finishing second to Golden Sixty in February's G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup by a short head (2000m).

“Furore, I'm still very pleased with him; if Joao (Moreira) is happy, I'm happy,” Cruz said.

Joao Moreira, a Brazilian star, partnered the Pierro gelding in this morning's trial.

“It was very good; he was left in the gates for very long, so he didn't hop very far, but during the trial, he travelled very easily, and I crossed the line with plenty of horse underneath,” Moreira said. “I'm looking forward to seeing how he does on the big day.”

Cruz's dual Hong Kong Gold Cup winner, Time Warp, leads a three-horse attack for the trainer in the FWD QEII Cup.

“Time Warp, he'll be leading in the big competition, I hope he can place,” Cruz said. “This will be his last season of racing, he may have a few more races but if he doesn't do well enough, we might cut it short,” Cruz added.

According to Cruz, Packing Waltham, who finished first-past-the-post in this morning's workout, will run in the G3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup Handicap (2400m) on Sunday, May 2.

Chad Schofield is looking forward to partnering Japan's Kiseki in the G1 FWD QEII Cup (2000m) on Sunday – the gelding's second outing in Hong Kong – with the prospect of joining his father Glyn Schofield on the race's honour roll after winning it in 2004 aboard River Dancer for trainer John Size.

“He's clearly a really fine horse, and I think this QEII he's right in it,” Schofield said. “He's an older horse, so let's hope he will come to Hong Kong and put his best foot forward.”

When second favourite in the 2017 G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m), the son of Rulership finished a weakening ninth behind Highland Reel after a mid-race move.

Despite this blip, his resume includes a G1 victory and a series of top-level finishes behind Almond Eye, Al Ain, Lys Gracieux, Waldgeist, Chrono Genesis, and Glory Vase.

Schofield, 27, led friendly ally Rattan down the straight this morning at Sha Tin in his first barrier trial since fracturing his right proximal tibia.

“It was his first trial back in a long time, so he was good and free in his conduct, and he'll get a lot out of that run,” Schofield said.

“He's had a good break already, and he seems to be over the accident so he's nice and free with his play, so hopefully Richard (Gibson) can get him ready for the race.”

With Hong Kong's sprint division wide open, Schofield remains optimistic that the Savabeel gelding will take the lead in the G1 Chairman's Sprint Prize (1200m) after finishing third to Danon Smash in last December's G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m).

“He's defeated Mr Stunning, he's competed in a Hong Kong Sprint, so he's right up there with them, and at his peak, he's certainly capable of beating them; let's only hope he can get back to that level,” the 27-year-old said.

Schofield has won three races since returning from a back injury in early March, including a double last Sunday (11 April) aboard Fantastic Treasure, who benefited from a superb steer from the South African horse.

“It's challenging because interpretation is all in Hong Kong, and people are unable to put their weight behind you until they see you at your best,” Schofield said.

“You miss all the drives you had when you're out, and then it takes a while to get back to where you were,” he said, emphasizing the challenges of being sidelined for an extended period of time.

Schofield has 197 wins in Hong Kong throughout his career, helped largely by a career-high 43 victories last season.