Like stablemate Magical in the Hong Kong Cup (G1), the Aidan O’Brien-trained Mogul hopes to rebound from a Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) loss in Sunday’s Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin. But his task in the $2.6 million Hong Kong Vase (G1) could be complicated by a muddling tempo, which plays into the hands of reigning Hong Kong Horse of the Year Exultant.
Hong Kong Vase: Race 4 at Sha Tin, post time 1 a.m. (ET)
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Himself an expat formerly named Irishcorrespondent, who was third in the 2017 Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) to Churchill and Thunder Snow, Exultant performed honorably in defeat in Hong Kong’s 4-Year-Old Series. But the Tony Cruz trainee came into his own later. Scoring a rare win for the home team in the 2018 Hong Kong Vase, Exultant secured Horse of the Year honors for the 2019-2020 season with victories in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1) and a repeat in the Champions & Chater Cup (G1) at this about 1 1/2-mile trip.
Although runner-up to Cup contender Furore in both starts this term, the Teofilo gelding was spotting weight in preps intended to get him to the big day. Exultant lugged 133 pounds in the Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse H. (G3) in his comeback at about 1 1/8 miles, and 128 pounds as the defending champion in the Nov. 22 Jockey Club Cup (G2).
Regular rider Zac Purton wasn’t bowled over by him last time, but third off the layoff, up in trip, and back to weight-for-age conditions, Exultant is in his wheelhouse.
“Furore sat right on my tail the whole way and came past me under a hold,” Purton said of the Jockey Club Cup, “so it was a little bit concerning and a little bit disappointing that he was able to go past me so easily.
“Because Exultant is known for his fighting heart and his strong will to win, so while it’s probably a nice performance it’s maybe just a shade below than the performance he put in last year.
“Now we go into the Vase and step out at his preferred distance after having a couple of runs under his belt in a race that doesn’t look as if it’s as strong as it has been before. We don’t have as many Europeans, we only have one French and we don’t have the Japanese – it’s certainly a winnable race.”
Indeed, it was only the Japanese who thwarted Exultant’s title defense in last year’s Vase, when he was third to Glory Vase and Lucky Lilac. Note that he also was forced into setting the pace that day or else get hung out to dry from post 14. This time he’s drawn post 5 in a field of half the size, and likely to work out a more advantageous trip shadowing the pace. Chefano or Playa del Puente (see below) could play the role of target.
If Exultant can parlay his tactical acumen into another Vase win, he’d become the first Hong Kong-based runner to take this race twice. The Vase historically has been a playground for European shippers, but only two have made the venture amid the pandemic.
Mogul brings the highest international rating (121 to Exultant’s 120), and as the lone 3-year-old, receives five pounds from his elders. The Galileo blueblood sports top formlines as the Grand Prix de Paris (G1) winner, beating next-out Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) near-misser In Swoop. Mogul had to miss the Arc thanks to the contaminated feed at Ballydoyle, so going straight to the Breeders’ Cup was not O’Brien’s first idea.
Because the robust colt needs racing to keep fit, Mogul might have been a tad underdone when fifth in a paceless Turf at Keeneland, and he could be sharper for Hong Kong. Yet as O’Brien pointed out, his career high in the Grand Prix relied upon having the right set-up.
“We always thought a lot more of him than he was showing in his runs until Longchamp,” O’Brien told the Hong Kong Jockey Club from his Irish headquarters. “He’s a big, powerful horse and you would be hoping the plan is to keep him in training next year as well.
“It (the Grand Prix) was a good race and it was the first time we really took the decision to drop him out completely, take our time on him and ride him for pace. That’s what we did and it worked very well – it was a properly-run race.
“He wants an even pace. He can quicken off even pace, but in America it was only a dawdle. It was a mess really. We had taken the decision that we were going to take our time on him, but when you’re doing that you’re always at the mercy of the race. He still ran very well and we were happy with his run and we’ve been very happy with him since.”
If a maturing Mogul can take another step forward here, maybe he won’t be a hostage to fortune after all. Ryan Moore rides him for the first time since his modest third in the Aug. 19 Great Voltigeur (G2). Only one 3-year-old colt has ever won the Vase, but he too hailed from Ballydoyle – Highland Reel in 2015.
The other European, Royal Julius, is an unlikely candidate to revive the fortunes of France. Once a potent angle in the Vase, the French haven’t sent out a winner since Flintshire (2014), and Royal Julius doesn’t have his resume. Stablemate of the more accomplished Hong Kong Cup contender Skalleti, the Jerome Reynier veteran has gone to Italy and Bahrain to earn notable wins. The 2018 Premio Presidente della Repubblica (G2) victor hasn’t won since the 2019 Bahrain International Trophy, and he was out of his depth when 10th in the Arc.
Up-and-coming local Columbus County, third to Furore and Exultant last time, can deliver a strong rally for Joao Moreira. The Caspar Fownes trainee should thrive on the step up in trip, considering his stout pedigree. By 2010 Vase runner-up Redwood, Columbus County descends from the record-setting 1988 Wellington Cup (G1) winner Daria’s Fun.
“Beautiful gate, gate 1,” Fownes said after the draw. “Even though it’s 2400 meters, I wanted a soft gate for him just so it gives Joao the option to be leader’s back now. He’s got as good a turn of foot of anything in the race, it’s just whether he’s at that level just now.
“He’s come a long way in a short period of time and I still think he’ll run a big race.”
The remaining Hong Kong entrants were unplaced in the Jockey Club Cup. Playa del Puente was only seventh in that prep, but back in March, he was second to the all-conquering Golden Sixty in the Hong Kong Derby. Like Columbus County, Playa del Puente makes his first attempt at this distance. Ho Ho Khan, sixth in last year’s Vase, prepped in a similar manner with a fifth in the Jockey Club Cup. Chefano has course-and-distance form as the winner of the Queen Mother Memorial Cup H. (G3) and runner-up in the Champions & Chater in May, but hasn’t built upon that in the new season. Blinkers and Pierre-Charles Boudot could help.
Quotations from Hong Kong Jockey Club notes by Declan Shuster, David Morgan, and Leo Schlink