The final Hong Kong meeting of the 2016 calendar year is set to have major implications for the Four-Year-Old Classic Series as a number of potential contenders for the Hong Kong Classic Mile step out at Sha Tin on Tuesday (27 December), headlined by Pakistan Star in the Griffin Trophy.
The Griffin Trophy (1400m) brings together this year’s griffin crop – three-year-olds sourced from both hemispheres with the stipulation that they are unraced abroad.
The last three winners of the race – Luger (2013), Line Seeker (2014) and People’s Knight (2015) – all had ratings that placed them in Class 3 when they won, but all subsequently made it higher; in the case of Australian-bred Luger, the track led to BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) glory in 2015, 15 months after his Griffin Trophy triumph.
For Tony Cruz-trained Pakistan Star, as a German-bred three-year-old, he has only three months until he faces his big test in the 2017 BMW Hong Kong Derby and less than four weeks until the first race of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series, the Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m) on 22 January.
On paper, it is a race that looks tailor-made for the son of Shamardal, despite three defeats somewhat lowering the boom that once surrounded him. His rating of 91 puts him well into Class 2 and is far superior to other recent winners of the race, and of his six rivals, only two others have won. With the race run under set weights, he appears pitched in compared to a typical handicap, while two-time champion jockey Joao Moreira jumps aboard for the first time.
His nearest rival in the official handicap ratings is John Moore-trained Sea Jade on 80, coming off two straight wins over 1200m at Happy Valley. Sea Jade would be getting 11 pounds off Pakistan Star in a handicap, but under the set weights conditions of the Griffin Trophy, both horses carry 130 pounds.
Still, jockey Zac Purton believes that he is in with a chance of bringing Pakistan Star undone aboard Sea Jade, particularly as the rider is likely to send the son of Star Witness to the lead in the small field with Moreira on Pakistan Star likely to be near the tail.
“Well, I hope I can beat him,” Purton said at Sha Tin trackwork on Friday (23 December) morning, noting that Pakistan Star’s grand final will come in March, whereas Sea Jade’s classic hopes will not be tested until next season as a horse from the Southern Hemisphere. “Pakistan Star is not going to be that far away really in this race and with the turn of foot he’s got, he might just blow us all away. But if he doesn’t turn up on the day, then my horse is going to be there.”
“We hope Sea Jade can bring his current form to Sha Tin. He’s definitely a horse that is racing with a bit of confidence at the moment, he seems to be going well. It’s obviously not an easy race but he’s in there with a chance. The trip might be a query but I think he should be able to see out the 1400m. He’s a bit of a galloper, he’s got a long action and he hasn’t been stopping in his 1200m races at the Valley so he should be able to handle it.”
The Griffin Trophy is the third race on the 11-event card at Sha Tin on Tuesday and is set to jump at 1:30pm.
Class 2 closer to throw up Classic Mile contenders
Pakistan Star is not the only potential classic contender hoping to further his claims for the prestigious Four-Year-Old Classic Series – the Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m), the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) and the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) – at Sha Tin on Tuesday.
In particular, the final race, the Class 2 Chek Keng Handicap (1400m), has often been a guide to the classics. Two of the last three winners of the race, Thewizardofoz and Secret Sham, went on to contest the Hong Kong Classic Mile at their next start.
Five horses will be hoping to book their spot in the first leg of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series in the Chek Keng Handicap, led by John Moore-trained debutant Beauty Generation (130lb).
The son of Road To Rock, who raced as Montaigne for Anthony Cummings in Sydney, finished second to Tarzino in the G1 Rosehill Guineas (2000m) in March, with subsequent G1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) winner Jameka in third. At his last start in Australia, he finished fourth against the older horses in the G1 The BMW (2400m) at Rosehill behind Preferment.
Purton has been doing a lot of work on Beauty Generation and believes that, although his targets are further down the road in his preparation, he is ready to run a bold race on Tuesday.
“He’s been doing everything right in the mornings,” Purton said. “He works well, he’s been bouncing around, he’s feeling good within himself and his trial was good so we’re looking forward to getting him to the races.
“He’s going to peak on Derby Day so there’s a lot of improvement there left in him, but we’re still expecting him to run a pretty nice race here. There’s no pressure, you just go and put them in the right spot. If they are good enough, they win, but if not there’s another race.”
Beauty Generation is one of five horses among the classic crop who will be out to cement claims for the Four-Year-Old Classic Series races. Also stepping out for the first time are two Derby placegetters from both sides of the Tasman Sea: G1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) third Raghu (124lb) for Caspar Fownes and G2 WA Derby (2400m) runner-up Who Dat Singa (120lb) for Richard Gibson.
Among the raced brigade, second starter California Whip (118lb) will be aiming to join stablemate Pakistan Star on the Derby trail, while Moreira will be out to gain a Classic Mile berth for John Size-trained My Darling (122lb).
“His first run for the season was pretty good, where he finished second to a horse that is racing very well at the moment (Jolly Banner),” Moreira said. “Second-up, I thought he was going to run a better race, but he wasn’t able to produce the same effort as he was able to produce at his first run. But look, he is a very nice horse, I have a lot of faith in him. For some reason, he wasn’t able to perform at his best last time, probably because of the pace of the race, it did not suit him as well as some others too.”
“He gave me a great feel in a trial at Happy Valley last week. He indicated to me that he’s going to be able to perform at his best here. He’s probably just getting there now.”
Moreira has a plethora of potential Classic Mile rides, including Rapper Dragon and Pakistan Star, but he insists that the son of Mossman would belong should Size send him to the race.
“No doubts about it,” he said. “At least at the mile, he will be one of those that could be right there fighting out the finish. Any longer than a mile, I would have my doubts at this stage. But he’s definitely one of those horses for the first leg.”
The Class 2 Chek Keng Handicap (1400m), the 11th and final race at Sha Tin on Tuesday, is scheduled for 5:45pm, with the opening Class 5 Wong Yi Chau Handicap (1200m) set for 12:30pm.