A reborn sprinter boasting a barnstorming finishing burst set the Group Two Premier Bowl (1,200m) alight on Sunday – but it was Seasons Bloom, not the enigmatic Pakistan Star, who stole the show.
Pre-race, all the attention was focused on Paul O’Sullivan’s two-time Group One winner and punters were keen to see if the experiment to turn him into a short-course specialist would be a success, many putting their hard-earned money on the line and backing Pakistan Star into $3.
And when he loomed halfway down the straight the fans started to get excited, but he didn’t go on with it.
“It was another solid effort, but when it comes to the crunch under pressure, he just doesn’t want to fight,” jockey Zac Purton said.
Instead it was Seasons Bloom who turned back the clock, coming from the back of the field to run over the top of his rivals and give jockey Grant van Niekerk his biggest victory in Hong Kong.
Danny Shum Chap-shing’s gelding had gone winless since capturing the Group One Stewards’ Cup (1,600m) in January 2018, but a shift in focus has paid dividends.
After running over distances ranging from 1,400m to 2,000m last season, Shum is keeping him to sprints this campaign and it is a move Seasons Bloom is relishing.
It’s a terrific training effort to rejuvenate the seven-year-old, who spends most of his time at the Jockey Club’s facility in Conghua.
“We had a plan with the owners – which was very detailed – because we couldn’t run him over 1,600m against Beauty Generation again. We can’t beat him – he’s a super champion,” Shum said.
“So we planned to run him in the Chief Executive’s Cup on the opening day, he ran well, so we came to this race. We hoped he would run well again.
“He’s a sound horse, he’s got 1,600m ability so he was strong at the end of 1,200m. He won very impressively.
“Conghua helps him a lot. He really loves it. My team in Conghua has done a very good job, I would like to thank them.”
Shum is building a strong team for December’s Group One Longines Hong Kong Sprint with Seasons Bloom and rising star Regency Legend shaping as contenders.
“[Seasons Bloom] won’t have another start until then, I will keep him fresh, keep him happy,” he said.
“Hopefully we have two runners in the race. It all depends how Regency Legend runs on the 17th of November.”
Van Niekerk was delighted with Seasons Bloom’s effort – particularly the way he picked up late.
“I honestly thought around the turn that I was not going to make it up because we never went that hard,” he said. “He showed a great turn of foot that last 150m – he really dug down deep.”
The South African is enjoying a strong start to the season – he now has seven wins after a double on Sunday – and is eyeing off bigger and better things.
“It’s very exciting, hopefully I can build on that and a Group One can follow shortly,” Van Niekerk said. “I am the type of jockey that thrives on confidence and it helps if you get the chances.”
The favourite Full Of Beauty ran another strong race, John Size’s talented type finishing second.
“Good run, obviously we are a bit frustrated at not winning the race,” jockey Joao Moreira said. “But we’ve got to be very pleased with what he’s done – he’s always up there in the top four.”
And what to make of Pakistan Star?
“I think he’ll come on with the run, he’s an older horse first up for a long time,” O’Sullivan said.
“He seemed to handle the speed of the 1,200m all right and maybe under set weights he’s going to be a long way better off. But it didn’t completely answer all the questions I wanted it to.
“I’ve given him four runs now and he’s loomed up four times to win and won’t go through with it.
“The worst decisions in the world are made on a racecourse so I’ll have to go home and think about what to do next.”