Exultant starts out towards the defence of his G1 Hong Kong Vase (2,400m) crown with a weighty task in the G3 Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse Handicap (1,800m) on Sunday, 3 November.
Hong Kong’s star stayer is slated to shoulder 133lb in a hot edition of the historic race, which features stablemate and last year’s winner Time Warp (122lb), as well as Southern Legend (127lb) and BMW Hong Kong Derby hero Furore (113lb).
Trainer Tony Cruz is satisfied with his champion’s preparation for his step-out run but is not expecting fireworks, with the 2400m showpiece on 8 December being the prime aim.
“The horse is in good heart and his condition is good, and while the weight is against him I believe he’s in better condition than last year,” Cruz said, adding, “but I expect him to be in top-top shape further on, in the Group 2 in a couple of weeks and then the Hong Kong Vase.”
Exultant has had two barrier trials leading into a two-race preparation for the Vase. After this weekend’s contest, the plan is for the Teofilo five-year-old to go into the G2 Jockey Club Cup on 17 November, a race in which last year he was a running-on second to Ladies’ Purse rival Eagle Way (124lb).
Regular pilot Zac Purton will be in the plate and, like Cruz, he is content with Exultant’s condition for his return to action. The three-time G1 winner closed off smartly enough by his standards in a 1200m dirt track barrier trial last week.
“I’m happy with him,” the champion jockey said. “He never trials well on the dirt, the distance is too short for him as well and he prefers the grass. I thought his attitude was good and he moves well and I’m just looking forward to getting him back to the races.
“It’s never easy when you’re carrying top-weight in these races and you’ve got some good horses down at the bottom of the weights,” he continued.
“He is first-up for the season and it is 1800 metres, so you wouldn’t expect him to be at his best, but he’s honest, he always runs well and I’m sure he’ll do that again. It’ll just come down to the circumstances of the race as to whether he’s going to have a chance or not.”
Exultant is drawn low in gate one, whereas yard mate Time Warp will have to be sharply away if he is to repeat his make-all win of 12 months ago: this time he must start from the widest berth of all, gate 11.
The 2017 G1 Hong Kong Cup (2,000m) winner has not won since that fine Ladies’ Purse effort and also makes his debut for the term, having led home Exultant in his most recent trial.
“Time Warp has had two trials going into this race and both were good,” Cruz said. “His trials have shown that his condition is good so I expect him to run a good race. It looks like he’s the only front-runner in the race so he’ll go out in front and do his usual. I hope he can pull it off again.”
Alexis Badel is booked to ride the chestnut. The Frenchman begins a winter contract with six rides on the 10-race card.