Pakistan Star became famous for his fast finishes but circumstances may thrust the one-time back-marker into the role of front-runner at Sha Tin on Sunday.
Hong Kong’s most popular horse continues his comeback in the Class One Rapper Dragon Handicap (1,600m), a race with just seven runners and a distinct lack of leaders.
After Pakistan Star was banned for stopping in a race in June, trainer Tony Cruz made a concerted effort to have the gelding show more early speed and that new attribute could come to the fore.
“Let’s see how he jumps and how he is feeling – but, sure he could lead the race if that is what is best for him,” Cruz said. “He does seem to have more speed that any of the other horses in the race.”
Leading jockey Joao Moreira hasn’t ridden Pakistan Star in a race since the infamous “Pakistan Stop” incident last year when the quirky galloper refused to race.
The Brazilian rider was booed and abused by sections of the crowd on the occasion and the horse again stopped with the jockey aboard in a barrier trial last October.
Moreira did ride the five-year-old in successful trials since though and now takes over from Matthew Chadwick after Pakistan Star was a gutsy fourth to stablemate Time Warp in the Group One Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup.
Pakistan Star missed the start but was bustled to sit close to Time Warp as the leader set a track record-setting tempo in front and he finished just a length-and-a-quarter behind the winner.
It was an admirable effort given Pakistan Star was essentially first up for 10 months – given the horse only galloped for about 200m before he pulled up in the Premier Plate.
Taking into account Pakistan Star’s messy start in the Gold Cup, his sectionals measure up very well to Time Warp’s, with the pair running nearly identical splits throughout and only race position proving the difference.
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
It indicates that if Pakistan Star is forced into a leader’s role, he could prove hard to run down, even with 133 pounds on his back.
The only other obvious candidate to take the running is big-striding grey Pingwu Spark (Derek Leung Ka-chun) who, with 118 pounds and a proven ability to race handy, could run a cheeky race.
Star English jockey Ryan Moore hits town to ride Ping Hai Star for trainer John Size in the BMW Hong Kong Derby but has picked up the ride on stablemate Western Express as well.
All four of Moore’s rides on the day are for the Size stable and the two in the lower grades, Nice Kick and Infinity Endeavour, also look terrific chances.
Nice Kick comes back to Sha Tin and 1,200m with a good draw in the BMW Centenary Handicap after racing very wide over 1,650m on the dirt last time out.
Infinity Endeavour contests the Class Three Luger Handicap (1,200m) seven days after a solid third behind Super Wise.
One of Size’s more interesting runners of eight on the day is Australian three-year-old Gunnison (Moreira) in the Class Two Designs On Rome Handicap (1,200m).
Gunnison was a Group Two winner as a two-year-old in Australia and had trialled well in the lead up to his local debut.
A seventh on the dirt just over three weeks ago was much better than it looks on paper with the lightly framed chestnut battling on well despite covering a lot of ground in the run.
Back on turf and with barrier two, Gunnison should get a much better run in this race.