Hong Kong racing: Jim McGrath with three tips on Sunday's Sha Tin card
7.00 Sha Tin
9.05 Sha Tin
10.50 Sha Tin
A mile and a half is regarded as a specialist distance in Hong Kong, such is the dominance of sprinters and milers on the local calendar, so when a good one comes along he is appreciated.
The Tony Cruz-trainedExultant is in that category, having won ten of his 24 starts and being rated 120 internationally last year, which made him the joint third highest-ranked Hong Kong horse in world standings.
At Sha Tin on Sunday, he will attempt his second successive win in the Group 1 Champions& Chater Cup, over 1m4f (9.05) at Sha Tin, which although appearing straightforward on paper may prove tougher than betting indicates.
Since being imported from Ireland, Exultant has matured into a top class middle-distance type, fulfilling the promise he displayed when racing as Irishcorrespondent for Michael Halford three years ago.
Rain is forecast for Sunday and Cruz has expressed fears that Exultant will not be seen at his best on rain-softened going – many of the Teofilo stock prefer top-of-the-ground– but even after a deluge, the well-drained Sha Tin track will ride no worse than an Irish 'good to yielding'.
Exultant worked harder than expected to land the QEII Cup over 1m2f on his last start and stablemate Furore, having his second start for Cruz, managed to finish only three-quarters of a length behind him.
If Furore had a little more stamina in his pedigree, you could fancy him giving Exultant a real run for his money. Cruz has three runners, while John Moore sends out four. With only two stables represented, it underlines the lack of interest in middle-distance/stayers in Hong Kong.
The other highlight on the marathon 11-race card is the Group 3 Sha Tin Vase (7.00), which features a top line-up of sprinting talent under handicap conditions.
Moore has been talking up the chances of Thanks Forever, his talented sprinter who has finally managed to draw an inside gate, which is a huge advantage in such a highly competitive field.
He finished third last start in the Chairman's Sprint Prize and the trainer argues that the wide draw cost him dearly as he was forced to come from the rear turning in and ran out of steam in the closing stages.
Zac Purton, who replaces Blake Shinn, should be right up on the pace throughout. But he will have to watch for the finishing flourish of the Richard Gibson-trained Wishful Thinker, who finished just behind him in the Chairman's Prize and now meets him 2lb better for one length.
Purton, level with rival Joao Moreira on 117 wins with rival in the title battle, has an excellent chance of landing the finale, the Class 2 7f handicap (10.50), aboard Happy Fun, whose two wins came over course and distance.
Bets can be placed into HK pools with Ladbrokes, Coral and the Tote
Race 6 (leg 1): 3, 8
Race 7 (leg 2): 1, 5
Race 8 (leg 3): 1, 2
Race 9 (leg 4): 4, 8
Race 10 (leg 5): 2, 3
Race 11 (leg 6): 3, 6
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