The Group 1 event, which offers just over £2.4million in total prize money, is open to international raiders and has been won by the likes of Saeed bin Suroor (Overbury, 1996), South African trainer Mike de Kock (Irridescence, 2006 and Archipenko, 2008) and Luca Cumani (Presvis, 2000) in recent seasons.
Japanese raiders have had the most success of late, winning the feature contest in two of the last three years thanks to Neorealism (2017) and Win Bright last year, but this edition has drawn just seven runners - all of whom are trained in Hong Kong due to travel restrictions.
Win Bright’s 2019 success came as a big shock as he returned at 47/1, but he stayed on powerfully in the final furlong of the 1m2f contest to deny 8/5 market leader Exultant, who returns to try and make amends a year on.
Formerly based in Ireland with Mick Halford, where he won twice from four starts, Exultant has gone from strength to strength since joining top Hong Kong trainer Tony Cruz, winning nine of 23 starts since November 2017.
He originally struggled to acclimatise to the different racing conditions and surroundings, but Exultant has been in rip-roaring form since the start of 2019 and has marked himself as one of the best middle distance performers in Hong Kong.
Exultant was heavily fancied in this race last year having won the Hong Kong Gold Cup on his previous outing in mid-February, and he made a bold bid to justify the market support but didn’t have the same late kick as the Japanese raider.
The son of Teofilo, who has been sent off a short-priced favourite on each of his last nine starts, has won three of six outings since this time last year and has frustrated big-race punters with placed efforts at short odds on a couple of occasions.
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Regularly held up, Exultant has needed everything to fall right in his races to win, and that certainly didn’t happen when he finished runner-up to the well-ridden Time Warp on his latest outing.
Ridden by Zac Purton, who has been aboard for his last ten starts and retains the ride, Exultant was given far too much to do in this year’s Hong Kong Gold Cup and eventually went down by three-quarters-of-a-length despite a spirited effort to catch the runaway leader in the final furlong.
He was sent off at 1/5 that day and although he won’t be much bigger in the market to reverse the form, favourite backers should be wary to get involved on the plunge at such short odds.
The biggest plus for Exultant is the fact that he only faces six rivals. He is normally forced wide as he attempts to fly past numerous contenders and this field represents the smallest number of opponents he has faced since finishing second of five behind Pakistan Star (winner of this race two years ago) in the Champions & Chater Cup in May 2018.
His biggest rival in the market is the aforementioned Time Warp - the second of three runners for trainer Tony Cruz, who has won this race twice in the last five years.
Another horse to hail from Europe, Time Warp made a stunning start to his career with Sir Mark Prescott back in 2015-2016, when he recorded five successive victories. He was subsequently sold to race in Hong Kong and has certainly paid his way since, winning seven times that includes three Group 1 victories.
Time Warp, who was consistently ridden by Purton throughout a period of his career, can only race one way and that is from the front. Rider Joao Moreira made good use of him last time when he denied Exultant and will have to do much of the same to confirm the form.
The only other horse to have a chance, according to the bookmakers, is Cruz’s final runner - Furore. The trio heads the market with 25/1 on offer for the next best. Cruz may be celebrating another red-letter day if his runners can finish in the first three positions.
This former Australian-based gelding has been ridden by Hugh Bowman for much of his Hong Kong career but has proved himself to be just below the top level this campaign.
Winner of the Hong Kong Derby last year for trainer Frankie Lor, Furore didn’t progress as anticipated and ended his time with Lor with a couple of seventh-placed finishes - the last of which came behind Time Warp and Exultant.
He ran a promising race on debut for Cruz at the start of April, where he finished fourth behind the highly-regarded Beauty Generation in the Group 2 Chairman’s Trophy at this track.
More will be needed to topple his two stablemates but Cruz is a master at improving new recruits and Furore has a fitness edge, having run just three weeks ago.
Those at bigger prices include Playa Del Puente, who like Exultant was trained by Mick Halford in the early part of his racing career. The youngest runner in the field, Playa Del Puente put in a massive career-best when second to crack young star Golden Sixty in the 2020 Hong Kong Derby thanks to a brilliant ride from Blake Shinn.
Shinn retains the ride and it will be interesting to see what tactics are employed, given he swept from the rear of the pack to take up the running and shot clear only to be pegged back by a superstar in his latest challenge.
However, on the face of it, he has been set a tough task here. Playa Del Puente is undoubtedly well handicapped off a mark of 98 in Hong Kong, but he runs off level weights against Exultant (rated 120), Time Warp (117), and Furore (115), so the Danny Shim-trained runner will have to improve a great deal to feature.
The John Moore-trained Eagle Way, who is ridden by 2015 winning jockey Neil Callan, and Tony Millard’s duo Elusive State and Glorious Dragon make up the line-up in what should prove a thrilling event.
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