The stage is set for Pakistan Star to steal the show on Sunday after Hong Kong racing’s cult hero drew the widest gate in the final race on a programme famous for revealing future stars.
The non-Group races on international day are often a launchpad for great careers, and last year the winners included subsequent Hong Kong Derby hero and horse of the year Werther, as well as Sun Jewellery, who won two legs of the 2016 four-year-old series and is a leading contender in Sunday’s Group One Hong Kong Mile.
In 2013, Able Friend and Aerovelocity were winners in the lower grades, before returning 12 months later to take their respective Group One races, while “undercard” placegetters from last year Lucky Bubbles and Amazing Kids will contest Sunday’s Hong Kong Sprint.
While the public focus, and betting, on Pakistan Star (Matthew Chadwick) will be extraordinary after two straight defeats as odds-on favourite, he isn’t the only potential Group One winner on show in the handicaps.
In fact, Pakistan Star again faces a worthy adversary in the John Size-trained Western Express (Joao Moreira), another big-striding chestnut who blew rivals away with a tidy turn of foot in his local debut a month ago.
It’s hard to imagine Pakistan Star being anywhere else but last in the run, Chadwick pointing into clear space on the “A” course and pressing go – and it is Western Express that could take the most passing in the Class Two mile.
Western Express gets nine pounds off Pakistan Star, who will also face some quality imports starting Hong Kong Derby campaigns over 1,600m.
Stewards have given John Moore permission for Eagle Way (Hugh Bowman) to wear blinkers without trialling in them, the four-year-old having worn the headgear during most of his racing in Australia, including when victorious in the Group One Queensland Derby.
South African visitors will have their eyes fixed on the Tony Millard-trained Nassa (Karis Teetan), who placed in last year’s Group Two Selangor Cup and Group One Cape Guineas before starting the long quarantine process.
The 1,400m Class One is a traditional starting point for horses bound for next year’s Derby, and this time Rapper Dragon holds the unique distinction of being top weight, having risen to a rating of 114 already.
Of course, Moore’s import has suffered numerous setbacks this time in and was initially being aimed at the Group Ones and now gives weight to a hot field including not only Blizzard (Moreira) and Racing Supernova (Silvestre de Sousa), but the two horses to beat Pakistan Star, Mr Bogart (Zac Purton) and Simply Invincible (Craig Williams).
Fans heading to the track should get in early to ensure they get a look at David Hall’s unbeaten four-year-old Jing Jing Win (Purton), who has jumped quickly into the top half of Class Three with two explosive performances.
Water Diviner (Williams), a first-up winner, is the likely second favourite, but perhaps Jing Jing Win’s worrying habit of sitting down in the gates and missing the start is of most concern.
A wide draw for a likely short-priced pick has also spiced up the 1,200m Class Two later in the day, with Mr Stunning (Moreira) needing to overcome gate 11 after a desperately unlucky fourth first-up.