Most horses without a win for almost 18 months would be well on the way to slipping out of favour with the Hong Kong racing public, but not Pakistan Star.
In the 1:09.35 it took the six-year-old to produce a flashing last-to-first debut victory back in 2016, Pakistan Star earned fans for life and there is a sense of anticipation as the horse returns to 1,200m for the first time since that unforgettable day.
In between he won Group Ones at 2,000m and 2,400m, but after emerging winless from nine starts over a mile or further last season, Pakistan Star will go back to where it all began in Sunday’s Group Two Premier Bowl (1,200m).
“It might be a silly idea doing what we’re doing but it’s worth a crack,” trainer Paul O’Sullivan said of his idea to reinvent the fan favourite as a sprinter.
“His trials have been good but it’s just a matter of whether he can take that dirt form to the grass. If he can, he is going to be pretty competitive.”
While it’s been over three years since Pakistan Star’s 1,200m win and that result came in Griffin company, O’Sullivan feels the Premier Bowl could be ripe for the picking.
“It’s probably not the strongest race. A few of the better sprinters are missing,” he said. “It’s going to be very interesting and we don’t have to wait all day to find out because it’s all finished after race three.”
While O’Sullivan knows fans would love to see a barnstorming finish like the one that made Pakistan Star an internet sensation, the horse has travelled in the front half of the field in both of his trial wins this season.
He said jockey Zac Purton would ride the horse “wherever he’s comfortable” but confirmed the gelding is still capable of exploding in the home straight.
The career of Pakistan Star has been one twist after another, but he prevails on the biggest stage today as he takes the #QEIICup by a big margin for William Buick and Tony Cruz. Gold Mount second, Eagle Way third in a 1-2-3 for Hong Kong #HKChampionsDay #HKRacing pic.twitter.com/lbHkYeFjHG— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) April 29, 2018
“He certainly still has his turn of foot in the mornings on the dirt track, he’s rattling off a [lightning fast] last 200m in the mornings. If he can do that on the grass track it would be nice,” O’Sullivan said. “If they ran it on the dirt, he’d be starting odds-on.”
Pakistan Star is one of the few genuine Hong Kong top-liners that Purton hasn’t yet ridden and O’Sullivan says “it’s a big help having him on”.
Purton knows he will be carrying the hopes of the grandstand on Sunday afternoon and is eager to give the punters what they want.
“Everyone is looking forward to seeing how he’s going to go,” Purton said. “He’s the odd one out to some extent, he’s the exciting one in the race.
“It’s a small field and normally they go too slow when it’s a small field. I know what I want and an evenly run race would be better for everyone.”
Purton should have his options open after drawing barrier four and says he won’t be trying to force the issue early: “I’m not going to be in a hurry on him, I’ll let him tell me where he wants to be.”
Trying to prevent the fairy-tale result are the in-form Full Of Beauty and another Group One winner in Ivictory, both trained by John Size, as well as the Richard Gibson-trained pair of Rattan and Wishful Thinker.