Graham Cunningham rounds up the latest news from the Hong Kong racing scene as Exultant gets a chance to push his Horse of the Year claims on Sunday.
Exultant up for the Cup again
Horse of the Year is a coveted award in HK and Beauty Generation faces stern competition if he is to become the first horse ever to be lauded three years in a row come the end of the season.
Golden Sixty is clearly firmly in the conversation after an unbeaten seven-race season that culminated with a thrilling Derby success, while champion sprinter Beat The Clock notched two more G1 wins in a campaign that ended earlier than expected.
Exultant seldom gets much shine in HOTY chat but HK's champion middle distance stayer has the chance to change that as he takes centre stage in Sunday's Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup at 9.05.
Even pace the key to a peak performance
Tony Cruz's gelding won the final G1 of the season decisively last year and put his name on a fourth different HK G1 prize by holding stablemate Furore in last month's QEII Cup.
Ever the realist, Zac Purton reflected on that success by saying "Exultant's a tough customer and I don't think he's at his best at the moment, I think he's doing it on heart."
But an alternative view, one based as much on pace and tactics as the horse himself, is well worth considering. The clock suggests Exultant was poorly placed in a steadily-run race when unable to wear down Time Warp in February's Hong Kong Gold Cup. By contrast, the need to ensure that old rival didn't steal a soft lead again prompted Purton to urge him into the heat of a battle a long way from home in the QEII.
Exultant is real strength athlete, capable of dealing out 12 second furlongs for fun then digging down to produce a sub 24 second final quarter.
Furore returns for another crack, as does Time Warp, but they'll all be playing for places if Purton can channel the hot favourite's energy more evenly and the prospect of give in the ground shouldn’t hinder his claims in the slightest.
Weight pull something to give Thanks for
A double apiece at Happy Valley in midweek leaves Purton and Moreira tied up on 119 winners in the race for the jockeys' title and the big two square off again when Hot King Prawn and Thanks Forever meet for the seventh time this season in the G3 Sha Tin Vase at 7.00.
Hot King Prawn leads 4-2 but there is seldom much between the pair and Thanks Forever held the edge in the G1 Chairman's Sprint Prize last month, charging through from the rear to lead briefly under Blake Shinn only to find Mr Stunning and Big Time Baby just too strong in the final strides.
Purton takes over from Shinn this time but the weight difference could be the key factor. Thanks Forever has a 6lb pull with Hot King Prawn this time and that ought to be enough for him to gain reward for his consistency in high-class company this season.
Chau claim points to Xponential growth
The fact that Purton and Moreira have ridden 37 winners between them at the last ten HK meetings reveals plenty about the influence they wield and punters tend to pay a premium in order to be with them when they ride promising, unexposed horses.
Sunday’s Helene Super Star Handicap at 8.35 could be a case in point. Moreira partners John Size’s newcomer Sell My Sole, who could be a fair bit better than his opening mark of 52 based on several promising trial efforts, while Fast Pace clearly caught Purton’s eye when staying on well for fourth on his debut for Caspar Fownes two weeks ago.
But this Class 4 contest looks much more than just a two-horse affair. Yee Cheong Pegasus added to a lengthy list of good efforts when coming via the Happy Valley Beer Garden to finish a strong second on his latest start. Moreira seems to have jumped ship but he looks bound to go well under in-demand Frenchman Antoine Hamelin.
And then we have topweight Xponential, who came back from a break with a good second in the same race as Fast Pace. That form alone gives him a solid chance – and the fact that the canny Douglas Whyte is keen to take advantage of his new claimer Jerry Chau’s 10lb claim adds to the belief that he’s capable of going very well indeed.
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