Pakistan Star is likely to carry top weight in a Class One mile on the BMW Hong Kong Derby day undercard but the main event is looking increasingly thin as connections of fringe contenders opt out of contesting the HK$20 million race.
Trainer Tony Cruz said Pakistan Star would be likely to drop back to handicaps on March 18 after a strong fourth in his long-awaited return from a racing in last week’s Group One Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup.
With a dearth of options available between now and Pakistan Star’s next major target, the Audemars Piguet QE II Cup on April 29, Cruz feels his horse needs more racing.
“There is nowhere else for him to go and after so much time on the sidelines he needs to race,” Cruz said. “We want to run him in the biggest races but the only other option at Sha Tin between now and the QE II is the Group Two Chairman’s Trophy three weeks earlier. So he will have to run in the Class One, even if it means having top weight.”
Time Warp wins his second 2000m G1 of the season, taking the @Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup under @zpurton. He sets a new course record of 1m 59.97s, the first horse to break the 2-minute mark, in holding off Werther, Seasons Bloom and Pakistan Star #HKRacing pic.twitter.com/cHfndOmseE— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) February 25, 2018
Pakistan Star was first-up for six months and it had been nearly eight months since his last competitive race when he chased a course record speed set by stablemate Time Warp in the Gold Cup.
“It was a great effort and when you think about it he was first-up for nearly eight months because he stopped last time he ran,” Cruz said, referring to the “Pakistan Stop” incident in the Group Three Premier Plate last June.
Cruz said his Derby fancy Exultant will trial over 1,600m on Tuesday along with stablemate Doctor Geoff.
Exultant, along with the John Size-trained Nothingilikemore and Tony Millard’s Singapore Sling, appear to be the three stand-out picks for the Derby with all finishing in the top four in the first two legs of the four-year-old series.
The Derby field will be released on Wednesday but trainers of some horses that could qualify have already indicated they will not press on to the race despite having the requisite rating.
Freshman trainer Frankie Lor Fu-chuen will knock back a double chance to have his first Derby runner, confirming on Thursday that neither Morethanlucky nor Simply Brilliant would take part.
“I spoke to Morethanlucky’s owners and the jockey [Karis Teetan] and we think that the horse’s best distance is 1,600m and he just would not get the 2,000m of the Derby,” Lor said.
“Simply Brilliant was a good winner over 1,400m last time but the race was just too close. I didn’t want to jump from 1,400m to 2,000m, so we thought about the 1,800m race this weekend, but it was just too much for the horse. I wanted to make it work but the timing wasn’t right.”
Caspar Fownes’ 87-rated Rise High was narrowly beaten in a Class Two mile last Sunday but the trainer said his horse isn’t up to taking on Derby-level competition yet.
“I think he will get to that level eventually but he isn’t there yet so we will just take our time,” he said.
Richard Gibson said he was “undecided” on a Derby start for the 88-rated Rattan, who ran an unconvincing ninth in the Classic Cup.
“We don’t know yet, the decision is just about how the horse is,” he said.
Sunday’s Class Two Snipe Handicap (1,800m) looms as a last chance for many Derby hopefuls to get into race shape with seven of the 10 runners holding entries and in ratings contention.