Trainer Tony Cruz believes his in-form six-year-old Exultant could be Hong Kong’s best ever stayer, and Sunday’s Hong Kong Vase (HK Vase) markets support his claim.
The multiple Group One winning gelding is currently a firm $2.30 favourite with BetEasy and based on his two starts this preparation, the price appears warranted.
He ended his last campaign winning four of his last six races including two at Group One level.
Earlier this year, he won the Group One Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m), beating home Southern Legend that day who he will face again on Sunday.
He then fell too far back in the Group One QEII Cup (2000m) and despite a whirlwind finish, couldn’t reel in Win Bright, having to settle for second prize there, (He did beat home this year’s Cox Plate winner, Lys Gracieux in that event).
He then lined up in the final race of that campaign which was the Group One Chater Cup (2400m) where he beat home a class field of stayers including Rise High, Dark Dream and Pakistan Star to claim the HK$10 Million race.
Resuming from his 23-week break, he ran home stoutly to grab third prize in the Group Three Sa Sa Purse (1800m), beaten less than a length behind Southern Legend and Time Warp.
Then last start he was second-up in the Group Two Jockey Club Cup (2000m) where he showed his domination by holding the field safely to win the event comfortably in the end.
With his domination in the 1800m-2400m races, he is being spoken about in the same vein as former champion stayers like Viva Pataca, Vengeance Of Rain and Designs On Rome and trainer Cruz is not at all surprised.
The man who has ridden the Teofilo gelding to all of his Hong Kong victories is Zac Purton who is inclined to agree with Cruz.
But come Sunday, the Hong Kong stayer will face his toughest task to date when he takes on the world’s best.
Among the International visitors is the Japanese stayer Lucky Lilac who, although lightly raced, is also a multiple Group One winner.
The five-year-old mare is coming off a last-start win in the Group One Queen Elizabeth (2200m) at Kyoto and sits on the second line of betting at $7 with BetEasy.
Also in the fray is the Melbourne Cup runner-up Prince Of Arran who brings some solid form to Hong Kong.
Prior to finishing second in the Melbourne Cup, the seven-year-old won the Group Three Geelong Cup (2400m) after finishing a close-up second in the Group Two Herbert Power Hcp (2400m).
One of the ‘dark horses’ in the field could be the unlucky mare True Self who just missed out on a Melbourne Cup start, finishing 25th in the ballot.
She finished second to Prince Of Arran in the Geelong Cup and was only a long head away from gaining a start in Australia’s most prestigious staying event (as the winner of that event gains automatic entry into the field).
Anthony Van Dyck is another runner of interest.
Also a Group One winner (taking out the Great Britain Epsom back in June), his efforts since then have been very strong.
He finished third behind Magical and Magic Wand in the Group One Irish Champion Stakes (2012m) before then making the trip to the USA where he finished third in the Group One Breeder’s Turf (2414m) at Santa Anita.
That form puts him in the ball park on Sunday where he is currently a $7.50 chance with BetEasy.
The Japanese mare Deirdre returns to Hong Kong after her grand performance in last year’s Group One Hong Kong Cup (2000m) where she finished a gallant second behind Glorious Forever.
In August this year, the six-year-old mare claimed victory in the Group One Nassau Stakes (1992m) at Goodwood.
At her last start, she finished third behind Magical in the Group One Champion Stakes (2012m) at Royal Ascot.
She has proven to be a very capable mare and sits on the fourth line of betting at $8 with BetEasy for Sunday’s race.
With several unsighted Internationals in the race, it is hard to line up the form, but with the home track advantage, I lean towards Exultant winning his second Hong Kong Vase.