Long touted as a star on the rise, the Tony Cruz-trained Exultant went some way to justifying the hype around him with a big-margin victory in the G3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup Handicap (2400m) at Sha Tin today (Sunday, 6 May).
Partnered by Zac Purton, 1.5 favourite Exultant was second-last in the seven-horse field passing the winning post for the first time, about four lengths from early leader Goldfield. At one time earlier this season, the slow pace early would have proved his undoing, but showing the extent of his maturity throughout the term, he raced generously for Purton until the leading rider decided to take matters into his own hands approaching the 1300m.
“It’s been pretty clear for a while that he is an out and out stayer,” Purton said. “When they were going along as slow as they were, it gave me the opportunity to slide forward down the back without covering any extra ground. You’ve got to have the right horse to be able to do it, though. There’s no point even attempting it on a horse who is incapable of it. I thought he’d be able to do it.”
Within a furlong, Exultant had assumed the pace-setting role and increased the tempo from a dawdle to a steady gallop. Quickly, though, he received pressure on his outside from Joao Moreira aboard the John Size-trained Prawn Baba, although the difference was stark; Purton sat quietly on Exultant, while Moreira resorted to a heavy drive on Prawn Baba from the 850m.
“I got to the front pretty easily really, but I wasn’t going to back it off to a sprint – Exultant just keeps going along at that one bat,” Purton said. “I just kept him in his rhythm, let him use his action, let him breeze along so he was comfortable, even when they were coming at me. I picked it up on the circle and in the end, he proved he was the superior stayer.”
It was a clear case of cream rising to the top – particularly in a handicap – as Exultant (121lb) raced clear for a six-length win over the dour Prawn Baba (115lb), with the winner’s stablemate Doyeni (115lb) a further head away in third. Last year’s winner Eagle Way (133lb), backing up from a third to Pakistan Star in the G1 Audemars Piguet QEII Cup (2000m) last Sunday (29 April), finished 11 lengths from the winner in fourth.