Tony Cruz is optimistic Hong Kong’s reigning Horse of the Year Exultant can join a select band of multiple winners of the Group 1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m) when his stable flagbearer returns to Sha Tin on Sunday (23 May).
Already the most successful trainer in the modern history of the race, Cruz will unleash three runners at the Cup on the weekend as Exultant bids to match the 2006-07 and 2009 feats of Viva Pataca, the last galloper to land the staying contest at least three times.
Super Win (1975, 1976 and 1977) and Silver Lining (1978, 1979 and 1981) were similarly dominant but River Verdon, who prevailed four times from 1991-94, stands alone as the most successful competitor in the final Group 1 of the season.
In a reign interrupted only by John Moore’s Werther in 2017, Cruz has ruled the mile and a half feature with seven of the eight most recent winners – California Memory (2013), Blazing Speed (2014 and 2016), Helene Super Star (2015), Pakistan Star (2018) and Exultant (2019 and 2020).
Adding further lustre to an extraordinary record in the race, Cruz partnered Makarpura Star in a deadheat decision in 1995, when Moore provided a remarkable quinella with Survey King (Greg Childs).
Cruz believes Exultant can provide his eighth triumph in the race as a trainer, as Zac Purton bids for a third straight win on the tough Irish-bred stayer.
“I believe so (that Exultant can win), there’s no foreign horses around this year, that’s a big help,” said Cruz, who will also saddle Time Warp and Packing Waltham.
“I brought him (Exultant) to Conghua, so he’s really nice and fresh again. His trial (a 1200m win on 13 May) was very good in Conghua. He seems to be all set.
“He’s getting on bit in age and he seems to be slipping a bit. Zac came back after his last run (fifth to Loves Only You in the Group 1 FWD QEII Cup on April 25) and said he doesn’t seem to have that fight like he used to have – (when) he wouldn’t let another horse past him.
“So, I decided to send him to Conghua to freshen up. He can’t be tired. He’s fresh and ready for this race. I’ve freshened him up. I think he’s 100 percent for this race, really.”
With four seconds, a third and fifth this season, Exultant is clearly performing below the form which enabled the son of Teofilo to snare five Group 1s across the two previous seasons.
But with the absence of Golden Sixty, Cruz is hopeful the seven-year-old can return to the winners’ circle on Sunday.
“Obviously he (Golden Sixty) would have been the main opposition, so I’m glad he (Francis Lui) made the decision not to run,” Cruz said before expanding on the qualities which made Exultant such a formidable opponent.
“He’s really a stayer, he’s got the one speed but he’s got a good heart. He won’t let another horse pass him – that’s really the ability that he’s got. He’s a top category horse, a Group One horse, that’s the kind of ability he’s got.
“He’s got speed and long distance. He hasn’t got early speed, but he’s got stamina. He could run a two-mile race.
“The highlight is that he’s never disappointed us, only this season he did, but I’m sure he’s fresh again so I’ll be very happy to see him in the winners’ enclosure again, hopefully.
“As a mile and a half horse, he’s the best one (I’ve had).”
Apart from his stablemates, Exultant’s opposition on Sunday will include Glorious Dragon, Butterfield, Panfield, Columbus County and Russian Emperor.