Tommy Berry admits he lay awake at night expecting to be punted off Pakistan Star ahead of the Group One Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup.
Heading into the meeting with just 13 winners for the season – the most recent on March 25 – the 27-year-old wasn’t sure he would have put himself on if he was making the decision.
But the show of faith from trainer Tony Cruz and owner Kerm Din was rewarded tenfold with a perfect ride as Pakistan Star emphatically accounted for his rivals in the HK$10 million feature.
The Australian revealed he had been riding without confidence recently but walking to the track knowing he was there to partner Pakistan Star gave him a big boost and it showed from the opening race.
As the saying goes, “when it rains, it pours”, and it was the Berry of old at Sha Tin on Sunday, collecting a treble (Romantic Bonanza and Honest Way were the other winners) and being narrowly beaten in another race after a bold front-running display.
Pakistan Star did it again! Yet another Group 1 win for the 2016 Hong Kong International Sale graduate, an easy 1.75L score in the HK$10 million @StanChart Champions & Chater Cup for @TommyBerry21 #HKracing pic.twitter.com/tuzrzGUKWV— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) May 27, 2018
“From the start of the day I was just in the zone, it felt like everything was going right – like how it used to be for me, so hopefully this is a turning point,” Berry said.
“I know myself, if I had told the connections that I was going to put on a jockey that had only ridden 13 winners for the season and hasn’t ridden a winner for two months, I’d be second-guessing what Tony was doing.
“But to his credit and the owners, they stuck by me the whole way, from when I trialled him before the QE II Cup, they said I was going to be on him.
“Don’t worry, there were nights when I was laying in bed waiting for the call to say ‘you're not on him’ because my form hadn’t been good enough. It’s been a tough season but I’m just glad today has worked out as well as it has.”
Berry, who also thanked his former boss John Moore for the support he had shown, knew he had control of the race soon after they jumped.
Pakistan Star settled second as Exultant took up the lead, racing in single file with Eagle Way, Chemical Charge and Gold Mount in tow.
Berry eased out on the turn to ensure the five-year-old had clear running and he put away his rivals in convincing fashion – like a $1.70 chance should.
“After about 20m he dropped the bridle and I was able to bring him back and put him behind Exultant and he switched off quite well the whole way,” Berry said.
“Full credit to Tony, he gave him that trial the other day between races and it just took that edge off him.
“I can’t express how well Tony has done with this horse, he wasn’t even racing at the start of the season and for him to win two Group Ones on end, and not just win, he absolutely flogged them.”
Cruz confirmed Pakistan Star will remain at home for the foreseeable future.
“We’ll stay here in Hong Kong and the main goal is to win the Hong Kong Cup,” Cruz said. “The game is to win the local races before we go elsewhere.”
Brett Prebble was full of praise for the effort of the runner-up Exultant.
“He went super, he just wasn’t as good as the winner, not as good a turn of foot as him. Whack another 800m or 1,000m on and he would love it, he’s a serious stayer,” he said.
“I think maybe he should have a little break and come back next season, if he pops another 20 pounds on him he might have more of a turn of foot because he showed it when he was younger here, when he first came. He’s had a bit of a season, come through a Derby, he’s had a couple of targets and he’s kept up to the mark every time.”
Completing the Cruz tierce was Gold Mount, with Alberto Sanna saying he ran well but the pace was too slow for him while Moore said the track was too firm for fourth-placed Eagle Way.
Things didn’t work out for the international raider Chemical Charge but with the small field, he still collected HK$330,000 for finishing last.
Trainer Ralph Beckett had hoped the six-year-old was going to settle a little closer to the speed.
“Once he's got ground to make up and nothing to take him along then it’s not going to happen,” he said. “He’s an old hand now, it was worth trying, it just didn’t go our way.”