Boom horse Pakistan Star ( Shamardal ) went some way towards redeeming his reputation as he scored an emphatic win in the Griffin Trophy at Sha Tin today (Tuesday, 27 December), with trainer Tony Cruz now setting his sights on the Four-Year-Old Classic Series for his rising star.
As 2016 drew to a close for Hong Kong racing with the final meeting of the calendar year, it was only fitting that the horse that was arguably the story of the year was the day’s headline horse.
Pakistan Star had not even stepped foot in Hong Kong at the start of the year, arriving as a soon-to-be international sales graduate in February. The German-bred son of Shamardal, purchased by the Club from the 2014 Arqana yearling sale in France, was sold to owner Kerm Din at the annual Hong Kong International Sale in March for HK$6 million.
His last-to-first debut in July became an online sensation around the world and the hype only increased with a second fast-finishing win in Class 3 in September. However, he had not saluted the judge in three starts since, finishing second twice – to Mr Bogart in a Class 2 over 1400m in October and to Simply Invincible in the same grade over a mile in November – before a last-start fifth to Eagle Way on international day.
Cruz dropped the three-year-old back to the Griffin Trophy against his own age group, meeting just six rivals under favourable conditions at set weights. This meant a drop back in trip from 1600m to 1400m off just a two-week back-up, but the trainer wanted to give his horse a confidence boost, booking champion rider Joao Moreira for his maiden ride on Pakistan Star (130lb) after Matthew Chadwick had been aboard at his first five starts.
“He never really lost his best form but he’s still learning,” Cruz said. “He’s still run well the last couple of times, but this looked a good race for him. Obviously, with the best jockey in Hong Kong aboard in Joao Moreira, we expected him to win today and he won very well. I’m very happy with that, Joao looked to have his hands full of horse at the top of the straight and he took the chance, sent him out early and won the race. We couldn’t ask for more.”
As a European-bred three-year-old, Pakistan Star turns four on 1 January and Cruz now hopes to target the three races of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series – the Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m) on 22 January, the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) on 19 February and the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) on 19 March. However, he is hoping to convince Moreira to retain the ride heading into the Hong Kong Classic Mile, with the Brazilian yet to commit to a mount for the feature.
“The next step now will be the Classic Mile,” Cruz said. “After that, it is probably the best race for him. I just hope Joao can ride him there. This is our goal.”
For his part, Moreira – who already has a number of other potential bookings for the Hong Kong Classic Mile, including top-rated Rapper Dragon – indicated that he thought the horse might still be too immature to take on the very best in Hong Kong, at least for now.
“He’s still a very young horse, he’s still picking up,” Moreira said. “I can say that now he is definitely not mature enough to be facing the top horses at this stage, but he indicates to me that he will be one of those top horses in time. It’s just a matter of time.”
Moreira had Pakistan Star closer than he had ever been in the run before in the small seven-horse field, never finding himself more than five lengths from front-running Sea Jade as the leader carved out solid fractions.
At the 600m, the rider pulled Pakistan Star out to make an early challenge and he quickly loomed up, but he was quick to suggest it wasn’t as sustained a run as it may have appeared.
“It looked more of a long run than it actually was,” Moreira said. “But the horses around him were just going no good, they were dropping back and their riders were pushing them and I was travelling so I pulled him out, went for it and he was right there very quickly. It was good that he was able to do more than just sprint, but he was able to fight too.”
John Moore-trained Sea Jade (130lb) was gallant in second, two and three quarter lengths behind the winner after setting a solid tempo, while Me Tsui-trained Look Eras (125lb) was a further six lengths away in third.
Four-year-olds shine as classic picture becomes clearer
It was a big day for the classic crop overall with trainer John Size at the forefront, sending out a trio of four-year-olds to score: My Darling leading home a trifecta of Hong Kong Classic Mile contenders in the Class 2 Chek Keng Handicap (1400m), sprinter D B Pin (125lb) recording another emphatic win in the Class 3 Luk Wu Handicap (1000m) and House Of Fun (125lb) racing away for a five and three quarter length romp in the Class 3 Pak Tam Au Handicap (1200m).
Of the three, it was My Darling (122lb) under Moreira who attracted the most attention, scoring a three-quarter length victory over Beauty Generation (130lb) and California Whip (118lb) to justify favouritism. However, Size was adamant that a decision was yet to be made as to whether he would push on to the Hong Kong Classic Mile.
“This preparation, in Class 2 he struggled a little bit, and probably today too, he struggled to win,” Size said. “But he has won and a Class 2 win is always pretty good as a four-year-old, that’s hard to get. So I’ll take that, I’m not complaining about it.
“Maybe I’ll try him at the 1600m, I’m not sure. He’s by Mossman, and even though the sire can run that far I’m not sure that he will. His pedigree says he can, though, so he’d have to have an attempt at some stage.”
Moore was happy with the debut Hong Kong performance of Beauty Generation, who was G1-placed in Australia as Montaigne, after his closing second.
“It was a good run considering the winner was eight pounds better off,” Moore said, indicating that Beauty Generation will now join Rapper Dragon, Eagle Way and perhaps Rodrico, who is yet to race in Hong Kong, in the Classic Mile. “Given he was in need of that and they’ve run pretty solid sectionals, for him to only go down by three-quarters of a length, he’s right on track. He’ll come on leaps and bounds for that and we’ll go to the Classic Mile with a trial in between.”
Size’s treble took him to 27 wins for the 2016/17 season to date and ensures that the 2015/16 champion trainer will start 2017 at the top of the trainers’ championship, having wrested the lead from long-time pacesetter Chris So (26 wins).
Brazilian riders Moreira and Silvestre de Sousa took riding honours with a treble each, the latter guiding Amazing Always (131lb) in the Class 5 Yim Tin Tsai Handicap (1600m), debutant Super Sixteen (133lb) in the Class 4 Tai Long Tsui Handicap (1200m) and Imperial Concorde (117lb) on dirt in the Class 4 Tai Tan Handicap (1650m).
French rider Alexis Badel also opened his Hong Kong account, scoring a shock win on 24-1 shot Supreme Profit (126lb) for Danny Shum in the Class 2 Long Ke Handicap (2000m).
“I’m very happy, this is a good horse and I had a little bit of luck because the favourite was only just beaten,” Badel said. “It’s a very good experience so I hope that I am going to win many races more.”
Racing returns to Sha Tin on Sunday (1 January) for the first meeting of 2017, featuring the G3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1400m), with the first race scheduled for 12:30pm.