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Exultant bows out as one of Hong Kong’s all-time greats

June 25, 2021 at 9:08:03 AM

Exultant, one of the greatest champions in Hong Kong racing history, will bid supporters farewell at a retirement ceremony on Saturday (26 June) in the Parade Ring at Sha Tin.

The Irish-bred gelding was voted Horse of the Year last season after being named Champion Stayer and Champion Middle-Distance Horse twice in a row. Exultant finishes his career with 11 victories from 32 starts, never finishing worse than fifth in any race, and prize money earnings of HK$83,491,900, making him the second highest-ever earner in Hong Kong racing history.

Exultant, who officially retired on June 11, is one of Hong Kong's all-time greats. Tony Cruz trained the brilliant son of Teofilo in each of his 11 wins (in Hong Kong) - the bright son of Teofilo retires with five Group 1 victories, a single Group 2 success, and four Group 3 victories.

“He's one of the greatest horses I've ever trained, and I'm sorry to see him leave because he brought us so much joy and happiness — he won the biggest races in Hong Kong and was Horse of the Year,” Cruz said.

Exultant was a superstar with great courage and resilience who never shied away from a challenge. His perseverance and will were rewarded on the big stage time and time again.

His first win at the highest level came when he defeated an all-star field to win the 2018 G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m), delivering one of the race's most dramatic endings when he and his most familiar buddy, rider Zac Purton, memorably clashed horns to win Lys Gracieux.

“His win in the Hong Kong Vase demonstrated the sort of horse that he was; that's my favorite win, without a doubt; it's extremely uncommon, especially in a Group 1, to be headed like that and come back,” Purton said.

“The Vase triumph was my favorite, the major highlight was when the Japanese horse headed him and he battled back, that's what you want to see in a horse — he had such a wonderful fighting heart,” Cruz says.

Lys Gracieux went on to win three straight G1s in her final three appearances, including the 2019 W.S. Cox Plate (2040m) and 2019 Arima Kinen (2500m), while Waldgeist, who placed sixth in the event, won the following year's G1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (2400m), Europe's most prestigious race.

The early days, Ireland and the 2000 Guineas

Exultant was born on March 24, 2014, at Ballygallon Stud in the beautiful hamlet of Inistioge, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland. He was bay in color and descended from the mare Contrary, who had a brief racing career.

Exultant was born on March 24, 2014, at Ballygallon Stud in the beautiful hamlet of Inistioge, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland. He was bay in color and descended from the mare Contrary, who had a brief racing career.

Against a month later, he reappeared for his second start and won again, this time by four and a half lengths over Homesman, a subsequent two-time G1 winner who won the Australian Cup (2000m) earlier this year at Flemington.

With only two starts under his belt, the youngster competed in the 2017 G1 Irish 2000 Guineas (1600m) on wet running at The Curragh. He finished third behind Coolmore's Churchill and Godolphin's Thunder Snow, the latter of whom won the G1 Dubai World Cup (dirt, 2000m) back-to-back in 2018 and 2019.

Exultant's pre-import career included one more race, a fifth-place finish in the 2017 G3 Hampton Court Stakes (1993m) at Royal Ascot behind another of Godolphin's worldwide champions, Benbatl.

Hong Kong, a new home

Exultant was transferred to Tony Cruz, Hong Kong racing's first megastar, for his four-year-old season. Cruz is a six-time champion rider and two-time champion trainer with over 2,200 wins in total.

Exultant ran a competitive sixth on debut in November, 2017 before winning his first race two outings later over 2000m at Class 2 level under the guidance of Zac Purton.

“He was a really tough ride early on, he wanted to get his head up, pull and over race - he was doing a lot of things wrong, but he was still competitive and able to win,” Purton added.

Exultant was scheduled to compete in the lucrative three-race Four-Year-Old Classic Series in 2018, finishing fourth in the Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m), second in the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m), and third in the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m).

“Once Tony got him to relax in the mornings, he was more calm in his races, and that's when we started to see him put all those very good performances on the board,” Purton said.

Exultant thrived later in his first season. Two races after his Derby third, he won the 2018 G3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup Handicap (2400m) by six lengths over a good field before finishing second to Pakistan Star in the 2018 G1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m) the following start.

At the end of his debut season, he returned for one more race to win another G3, the Premier Plate Handicap (1800m), this time under Purton.

“He always gave me the feeling that he was going to measure up here and he definitely did, I don't think there was a point where I said ‘wow, he is there,' but I always believed that he was going to win a Group 1 and well, he ended up winning five,” Purton said.

Champion Stayer, the first time around

Exultant's brilliance showed through in his second Hong Kong season, when he won three G1s, and his daring and drive, which saw him steeped in racing immortality, were front and center, as were fans in the Sha Tin grandstand, who waited up to catch a look.

Exultant was the local team's primary hope to resist the Japanese and Europeans in the 2018 G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m), and he didn't disappoint.

“It was perhaps the greatest Hong Kong Vase field we've had here in Hong Kong, especially in recent years, and he was able to win it for Hong Kong.”

“It's without a doubt the most difficult race for our horses to win, and he achieved it against arguably the finest line-up – he'll always have that on his resume,” Purton said.

The bay was pushed out of the gates by veteran rider Zac Purton and maintained a comfortable position on the speed, chasing the pacesetter throughout before taking the lead at the 300m mark.

Purton kept working on Exultant, and he reacted, but a fast-closing Lys Gracieux and Joao Moreira were closing in on him, just overtaking the champ with 150m to go.

Then, in typical Exultant fashion, Hong Kong's brave stayer rose to the occasion, defeating her by a neck with his trademark "never yield" mentality on full show.

“As he got older, especially later in his career, he became more clever, because he'd go to the front and then idle, and as they came to him, he'd just find enough to win - at times it made me feel a little anxious because the opposition was coming a little too close.

“But then I could feel him lifting underneath me again when they challenged him; he made me fight for it, but I always felt certain he could win those races because he'd done it so many times before,” Purton explained.

The victory would be the first of five G1s for Purton aboard Exultant that season, with the pair returning just three months later to win the 2019 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m) as well as the first of two Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cups (2400m). Between the victories, he finished second to Win Bright in the G1 FWD QEII Cup (2000m).

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