After struggling to live up to huge expectations this season, Pakistan Star has become somewhat the forgotten horse of the Longines Hong Kong International Races, but owner Kerm Din hopes a perfect draw and a favourite jockey can bring the best out of him in Sunday’s Vase.
Pakistan Star was voted Hong Kong’s most popular horse last season in a landslide, but there are plenty of other descriptions that can also be applied to the five-year-old – enigmatic, brilliant, notorious, rogue and one-of-a-kind all carry some truth.
So the HK$20 million question – which horse will turn up on Sunday?
Will it be the one who stunned racing fans around the globe with his explosive finishing burst? Will it be the recalcitrant who stopped during the middle of a race? Or the hero who collected two Group Ones in emphatic fashion last term?
Those superstitious types could take comfort from the fact the last time Pakistan Star raced over 2,400m, he also drew barrier two, going on to take out the Group One Champions & Chater Cup in a canter.
Pakistan Star was the last horse to be given a gate for the Vase – the strongest of the four HKIR features – but Din had a smile on his face when he knew he had landed an inside draw.
A classic example of how pace makes the race: Time Warp and Glorious Forever engage in a destructive brotherly Jockey Club Cup duel, paving the way for another track record and a thrilling win for Eagle Way and Silvestre de Sousa. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/dujmZ1z7nM— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) November 18, 2018
“One to three is what you want,” Din said. “It gives him a chance against some of the world’s top horses, I think he will run a very good race.”
William Buick, the man who guided the Tony Cruz-trained gelding to his first Group One win in the QE II Cup, replaces Karis Teetan in the saddle and the owner hopes that can spark a change in fortune.
“I don’t think you should worry about his form, if a horse likes a jockey he will give that little bit more,” Din said.
“William said he wanted to ride him again so we got in touch. The first reserve was Tommy Berry, he said he was ready to pack up his things and get on the plane straight away. It was very kind of these two jockeys and I really appreciate that.”
So while punters might have abandoned Pakistan Star after his recent efforts – he is a $13 chance in international fixed-odds markets – the fact two of the world’s best jockeys are keen to jump aboard means there is still something there.
But Din is not taking that for granted and hopes Pakistan Star can do Hong Kong proud on the big day.
“I’m excited to be part of the big day,” Din said. “The past two years I have been very lucky, we came second in the Derby and won the QE II Cup and the Champions & Chater Cup. What more can I ask? I just hope he does well and he makes the Hong Kong people happy.”
Of the other Vase contenders, Andre Fabre’s Waldgeist has drawn ideally in barrier four while Melbourne Cup placegetter Prince Of Arran will be forced to jump from the outside gate.
The Sprint became a lot more interesting with early favourite Hot King Prawn allocated barrier 11 in the field of 12, which means he will probably have to do some work if he is going to take up the lead as expected. Mr Stunning will jump from nine.
Similarly, Hong Kong’s highest-rated horse Beauty Generation will have to overcome gate 12 if he is going to claim back-to-back victories in the Mile. Owner Patrick Kwok Ho-chuen grimaced when he plucked it.
Even though the 2,000m start is the trickiest at Sha Tin, this year barriers are less of a factor in the Cup because of the small field with Japanese raiders Deirdre and Sungrazer landing two and six, respectively, while last year’s winner Time Warp drew seven.