The John Size-trained Eastern Express isn’t going to be the horse that Pakistan Star will be next season but the five-year-old is capable of causing perhaps the upset of the season in the Group Three Premier Plate (1 ,800m) at Sha Tin on Sunday.
The smallest field of the season will contest the HK$3 million race, with most punters certain to pin their hopes on Joao Moreira and Pakistan Star.
And let’s be clear about this – Pakistan Star next season will be one of Hong Kong’s best performers and has an X-Factor about him which could convert to something special with maturity. Eastern Express is a very decent trier who is unlikely to ever win a Group One race.
There is a class gap between them but Pakistan Star still has chinks in his game and, with 133 pounds in what looks a very tricky type of tempo, he might not be the shoo-in that he looks on paper.
One of the key points is that we come back into handicap conditions with Pakistan Star, who has been handled roughly all his career by the handicapper and throughout the season has continued to rise in the ratings after running in level terms races without winning.
Pakistan Star has had nine starts this season for just two wins – one of those a walkover against B and D-graders when even the handicapper didn’t give him any penalty – yet he has risen 40 points in the ratings.
Before Pakistan Star finished fifth in the Classic Mile in January, he was rated 91 and he has since finished runner-up three times and risen 22 points for it.
He was penalised another 10 points for his QE II Cup second, which may not seem unreasonable on face value and the handicapper probably had no other option, but it came out of a dreadfully slow race, a 500m race that gave really no guide to the differences between horses.
On Sunday, Eastern Express (Chad Schofield) will have the luxury of getting 13 pounds off Pakistan Star and a head start as well.
There is little doubt this will be a slowly run race followed by a sprint home, the kind of race shape that can bring Pakistan Star undone, especially if he over-races.
Eastern Express will be in the first couple of runners travelling kindly, as he always does, and, while he doesn’t have the turn of foot that Pakistan Star possesses, that might prove less important here than the fact Eastern Express can sustain quite a good speed for the last 600m.
If he can force the favourite to do the same under his big weight, there is a chance that Eastern Express can drag the sting out of Pakistan Star’s finish and keep him at bay in the final stages.