Da Cruz gets his 1,200th winner
Exultant wins for him the Hong Kong Centenary Vase
Sunday at the Sha Tin Racecourse in Hong Kong turned out to be a special day for trainer Tony Da Cruz.
Not only did he saddle Exultant to win the Centenary Vase Handicap, but the victory was also a milestone for the popular trainer as it handed him his 1,200th Hong Kong win.
But, like always, the affable trainer steered the attention away from himself and towards the horse who handed him that magic number.
Still, the fact that Exultant could step back 600m from last month's triumph in the Longines Hong Kong Vase run over 2,400m.
The win in 1min 45.68sec - only 0.27sec off the track record - had Da Cruz brimming with enthusiasm about future pursuits, while victory fingers were raised at a landmark reached.
"It's always good to get a big number like this," said Da Cruz, referring to the training feat. But he was more enthused with Exultant who, he said, will be lining up for the Hong Kong Gold Cup next month.
"Exultant is also entered for Dubai," he added. "Whether or not he goes there is up to the owner, but to win the Centenary Vase like he did and at a distance short of his best only gives me more confidence in the horse."
It was up to Zac Purton to fill in the blanks - and the champion jockey was more than impressed with Exultant's victory.
"He's more than just a stayer," said Purton. "He's a stayer with class - and he's continued to get better.
"Through the mid-section, they rolled along and the pace stayed on. From where I was, it was just a matter of keeping him rolling and he kept coming into it."
Exultant followed recent past winners Akeed Mofeed and Designs On Rome in rolling into a Centenary Vase victory off successes at Hong Kong's December showcase fixture.
Both of their Group 1 scores came in the Hong Kong Cup, though, and the past two winners of that 2,000m feature were unable to match Exultant's drive - Glorious Forever finished eighth and Time Warp last of nine.
"It was pretty soft the last furlong," said Purton.
However, it was anything but soft at the start.
"They smashed him coming out of the gates, they really jammed him and put him out the back, so I wasn't too impressed with that," said the Australian.
Exultant's bruising initial squeeze between Glorious Forever and Horse Of Fortune left the five-year-old racing at the back.
Up front, Pingwu Spark was set a stern task, out-racing an old Purton ally, Time Warp, to take the lead.
Purton shifted Exultant wide off the home turn and got to work with 400m to go.
The Teofilo gelding wound up into a relentless drive and secured the lead with 200m to race, his momentum carrying him clear of last year's winner Dinozzo.
The Da Cruz-trained Romantic Touch kept on for third.
Trainer Frankie Lor was not too sad about Glorious Forever's failure to follow-up his Hong Kong Cup success.
"The pace was too fast," he said. "We'll go on to the Hong Kong Gold Cup now."
Lor gained rich compensation one race later when Furore took the day's lead feature, the Hong Kong Classic Mile, under Hugh Bowman.