Hong Kong now has a supreme stayer to go alongside its master miler.
And the manner in which Exultant took control of the G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m) at Sha Tin on Sunday left no room for doubt that he is fully entitled to his official billing as Hong Kong's second best horse behind the majestic Beauty Generation.
The Tony Cruz-trained gelding entered the arena as the 2.1 favourite little over half an hour after Beauty Generation's latest show of strength and was bidding to emulate a Hong Kong hero of yesteryear in this HK$10 million contest.
Ivan Allan's Indigenous had been the last horse to win the 2400m Hong Kong Vase before stepping down in distance to land the Gold Cup but Exultant replicated his achievement thanks to a dashing ride from Zac Purton and his own deep reserves of stamina.
Purton has few peers when it comes to judging pace and, in his own words, he “bit the bullet and decided to go” when Vincent Ho slowed the pace aboard last year's Gold Cup hero Time Warp approaching halfway.
Exultant quickened from a distant eighth to a freewheeling first in little over 200m as Purton asked him to sustain a long run for home soon after and the five-year-old galloped on relentlessly to pass the post a length and a half clear of the running-on 56/1 shot Southern Legend as the pair drew clear of Dinozzo and Simply Brilliant.
LONGINES Hong Kong Cup hero Glorious Forever had every chance in fifth, but Exultant's unpredictable G1-winning stablemates Pakistan Star and Time Warp looked shadows of their former selves in occupying the last two places.
Purton reflected on his fifth G1 success of the season in typically matter-of-fact fashion: “They were just going too slow,” he said. “But I knew my horse was the best stayer in the race and I knew he'd keep going - he just doesn't seem to get tired.
“He's got a lot stronger since this time last year and as a result he's just furnished into a better horse. We know what we've got now so I can use him and ride him accordingly.”
Exultant and Zac Purton, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Dubai on the table for Fownes
Cruz was winning the Gold Cup for the sixth time as a trainer but was taken aback by the way the race developed.
“Zac rode a hell of a race,” he said. “I thought Time Warp would go a hell of a pace but when Zac took off and went past him I just said ‘holy mackerel!’”
Cruz said it was “back to the drawing board” for Pakistan Star and Time Warp but is clear about Exultant's next targets, namely the G1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup over 2000m on 28 April and the G1 Champions & Chater Cup (2400m) on 26 May.
“The programme is limited - maybe two or three races - but we'll go for the QEII,” he added. “I've got to give Exultant a bit of time, as he's been kind of a weak horse. We won't be going to Dubai with him this year but maybe next year we'll have to go elsewhere as there isn't anywhere to run in March.”
Caspar Fownes is certainly looking forward to next month with Southern Legend, who has now finished placed in three G1 contests this season and remains on course to meet superstar Japanese filly Almond Eye in the G1 Dubai Turf (1800m) at Meydan on 30 March.
“The lack of respect he's being shown is a joke but he keeps running really well and did so again today,” he said.
“Southern Legend will leave for Dubai on 28 February and I’ll go down in early March and then have a look at him to decide whether he has a run beforehand or goes straight for the big one on Dubai World Cup night.”
Indigenous flew the Hong Kong flag globally on numerous occasions after landing his second Hong Kong Gold Cup under Douglas Whyte in 1999, including when second in the Japan Cup, and Purton would love to see Exultant do the same.
“It's interesting to hear Exultant has completed that double,” he added. “It’s a feather in his cap and a credit to the horse and to Tony, who's weaved his magic as this was a very difficult horse to handle when he first came to Hong Kong.
“I thought he was going to Dubai and I was excited for him to go so I'm a little bit disappointed that he's not,” he added.
Purton would probably also be disappointed if he ever had to choose between Exultant and Beauty Generation in a race but, ever the diplomat, declined to be drawn on what might happen if Hong Kong's star heavyweights do clash down the line.
“One is a miler and the other is a stayer,” he smiled. “So I don't see that happening anytime soon!”
Hong Kong racing continues at Happy Valley on Wednesday, 20 February.