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Tony Cruz jokes locals have ‘chickened out’ as he prepares to fly the HK flag against the Japanese

It was an upbeat Tony Cruz who wondered on Tuesday morning if the locals may have “chickened out” as he prepares to tackle the might of the Japanese virtually single-handedly in next week’s Group One QE II Cup (2,000m).

Cruz saddles up three of the four Hong Kong runners in next Sunday’s contest, with reigning Horse of the Year Exultant, three-time Group One winner Time Warp and 2019 Derby winner Furore joined by Francis Lui Kin-wai’s Group Three winner Glorious Dragon.

“What’s happened to the Hong Kong horses, have they all chickened out or what?” Cruz laughed. “My old horses like to take the Japanese on – Time Warp is an eight-year-old, Exultant is seven and Furore is a six-year-old but they are fit and ready.”

Cruz was happy with what he saw from big guns Exultant and Furore in a 1,600m turf trial at Sha Tin on Tuesday as they head towards a showdown with Japanese quartet Glory Vase, Loves Only You, Daring Tact and Kiseki.

While Exultant can often been found trialling at the back of the field over six furlongs on the all-weather track, he jumped positively under race-day rider Zac Purton on Tuesday and sat on the speed before finishing second.

“He always runs last in trials but it was a mile today and he’s a one paced horse so we just let him run his race. The 1,600m on the grass is more his kind of track so I expected him to be up there,” Cruz said of the reigning QE II Cup champion.

“I said to Zac ‘he’s going to have a lot of speed for this so jump and let him go with the flow, let him be up there’. His last race was the Gold Cup, it’s a long time ago so he needed a trial like that to get him right for the race. He showed that he’s in form and he’ll be ready on [Champions Day].”

Furore tracked his stablemate and finished a nice third, pleasing Cruz and jockey Joao Moreira – who will partner the horse next Sunday.

“He was left in the gates for too long so he didn’t jump well but during the trial he travelled very comfortably and I crossed the line with plenty of horse underneath,” Moreira said.

Meanwhile, Cruz saddles up six runners at Happy Valley on Wednesday night and will be looking to continue his strong 2020-21 association with his former apprentice Matthew Chadwick, which has netted eight winners.

The pair combines with Transcendent in the second section of the Class Three Cypress Handicap (1,200m) and Ima Single Man in the first section of the race, while Chadwick will be shooting for a hat-trick of wins aboard the Richard Gibson-trained Right Honourable in the Class Three Fountain Palm Handicap (1,650m).

“It looks like a similar sort of field as far as talent goes so if he brings the same sort of form that he has been he should run another competitive race,” Chadwick said of Right Honourable.

Chadwick also climbs aboard Righteous Doctrine for Michael Chang Chun-wai in the night’s Class Two contest, with the six-year-old racing at Happy Valley for the first time in over 10 months in the Cedar Handicap (1,800m).

“I don’t think the Valley will be a problem, he’s run well there before and he should be able to handle it. His trackwork has been good so hopefully he can transfer that to the racetrack,” said Chadwick, who has secured Group One rides aboard Cruz-trained runners Computer Patch (Chairman’s Sprint Prize) and Time Warp on Champions Day.

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