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Hong Kong Derby hero Sky Darci satisfies Moreira, Conghua for Cruz’s Exultant

May 4, 2021, 11:52:59 AM

Sky Darci took to the track at Sha Tin this morning (Tuesday, 4 May) for the first time since winning the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) in March, as he prepares for his much-anticipated comeback in the G3 Lion Rock Trophy Handicap (1600m) at the end of the month.

In preparation for the HK$3.5 million contest on May 30, the son of Darci Brahma finished third in this morning's barrier trial, behind the undefeated Winner Process, who clocked 57.61s down the 1000m straight, and Californiadeepshot, who finished second.

The New Zealand-bred broke cleanly and was slowly eased to the rear before meandering across the field with a touch of swagger, much to the delight of jockey Joao Moreira.

“He was good, he only went out for a piece of exercise among horses, he jumped brilliantly as always, he relaxed perfectly, then he came across the field traveling on the bridle, he was just out there for an exercise, not to be weighed, and he did it very well,” Moreira said.

Following his HK$24 million victory two months ago, the 106-rater spent a brief spell at Conghua before returning to Hong Kong on 30 April, as he has done for the majority of his 12-start career.
“I think the break was what he deserved anyway because he did an amazing job all season, winning four races, including the Derby,” the Brazilian said.

The bay has six wins in Hong Kong, including a Class 1 victory over the mile in the Chevalier Cup Handicap earlier this season, and he finished second to Champion's Way in the G3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup Handicap the following start (1400m).

“I'm booked if he runs because it's still not certain if he can go, so if he keeps on the way he is now, I hope we should be running by the end of the month and I should be on him,” Moreira said.

The Lion Rock Trophy, which was first run in 2016, is named after Lion Rock, a 495-metre-high mountain that overlooks the back of Kowloon, and it is a race that Moreira has previously scaled three times aboard Rapper Dragon (2016), The Golden Age (2018), and Champion's Way (2019).

Tony Cruz is confident that a trip to Conghua will reinvigorate reigning Hong Kong Horse of the Year Exultant as he prepares to defend his title in the G1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m) on May 23.

“It's a change of climate for him to see if we can get a better attitude out of him; he's been at Sha Tin for so long and he's not performing now,” Cruz said.

The highly reliable Teofilo gelding has yet to win in six attempts this season, but has won five times, including twice at G1 standard, finishing second to Mogul in the 2020 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m) and third to Golden Sixty in the Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m).

“He has to score in the Champions & Chater Cup, and then we'll see whether we keep him for next season or not,” the trainer said.

The 126-rated horse finished fifth in the G1 FWD QEII Cup (2000m) on FWD Champions Day (25 April), becoming the first locally-trained horse home behind all four of Japan's raiders: Loves Only You, Glory Vase, Daring Tact, and Kiseki, in that order.

“A change of climate will change a horse's temperament and behavior; he's always been a very relaxed kind of horse, so he'll do his time up there and hopefully return a fresher horse,” Cruz said.

The HK$82.2 million earner has galloped on the dirt in Conghua since his arrival on April 29 and is scheduled to trial before returning to Sha Tin for his next assignment.

“The race is approaching, but he won't have much time; he'll be up there for another week or so; the training atmosphere and regime for him are close to Hong Kong, except this time he'll have a barrier trial up there instead of coming back down,” Cruz said.

The Irish-bred import has 11 wins in Hong Kong, including five G1s, from 31 runs under Cruz. Exultant's career in Hong Kong has been marked by continuity, with just five missing placings.

“All his life, over 1200 metres in dirt trials, he finishes last, he's the slowest horse on the dirt, he has to go on the grass, so we're going to do it at Conghua and over 1200 metres,” Cruz said.