Far from doubting Pakistan Star’s ability to run a strong race first-up from an enforced “holiday”, rival jockeys and trainers fear the idiosyncratic superstar has returned better than ever and could dominate Sunday’s Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup.
“It’s terrific to have him back at the races, although from my perspective I wish he wasn’t there because I think he is a serious horse,” said jockey Zac Purton.
Purton will ride Longines Hong Kong Cup winner Time Warp, the likely leader, and the Australian said Pakistan Star was the rival he fears will be looming over his left shoulder in the home straight.
“He is probably the horse I am most worried about in a very good race,” Purton said. “I always thought he could develop into our best 2,000m horse, and maybe having that enforced holiday has allowed him to develop more as a horse.”
That “holiday” was actually a racing ban enforced by Jockey Club stewards after Pakistan Star sensationally stopped during a race last June and again in an October barrier trial.
Since then all eyes have been on trainer Tony Cruz’s re-education of the strong-willed five-year-old.
Cruz even consulted legendary “horse whisperer” Monty Roberts in December in an effort to get Pakistan Star’s mind right and the trainer seems to have won the battle to fix the quirky fan favourite’s apparent mental block.
The progression Pakistan Star has made during his lay-off was clear in a trial last week when the gelding smashed his rivals, including Werther, who is chasing three straight Gold Cup wins on Sunday.
“The way he put Werther to the sword indicated that he has raised the bar,” Purton said. “If he produces a similar performance in a race then I don’t think it would matter where in the world he was racing, he would be the horse to beat.”
“That trial was better than good,” said Werther’s trainer John Moore, who is not counting on Pakistan Star’s bad habits resurfacing on race day.
“I don’t think he will be exiting stage left this time because he is fresh and perhaps that behaviour had more to do with mental fatigue,” Moore said.
“We knew he was talented and sure he is quirky, but the way he put Werther away in that trial showed just how good he is and we will have to be at our best to beat him.
“That effort really made the trackwatchers sit up and take notice. Of course, there is some query first up, that he might be lacking in the type of condition he needs, at least that is what we hope.
“It’s one thing to run an eye-catcher in a mile trial but Werther has had the benefit of racing and really attacked the line last start.”
Pakistan Star’s return – and the horse’s habit of producing drama, whether it be when winning or simply stopping – should create an electric atmosphere before the start of the HK$10 million Group One at Sha Tin.
“It’s a great race, maybe the best edition I have seen in years,” Purton said. “So it isn’t just Pakistan Star I need to worry about, but I still might just go over behind the gates and whisper in his ear, ‘Don’t forget, you can stop down the back’. If he did it would certainly make it easier for all of us.”