Pakistan Star now eyes the 4YO Classic Series
Hong Kong race round-up
Boom horse PAKISTAN STAR went some way towards redeeming his reputation as he scored an emphatic win in the Griffin Trophy at Sha Tin on Tuesday, with trainer Tony Cruz now setting his sights on the Four-Year-Old Classic Series for his rising star.
As 2016 drew to a close for Hong Kong racing with the final meeting of the calendar year, it was only fitting that the horse that was arguably the story of the year was the day's headline horse.
Pakistan Star had not even stepped foot in Hong Kong at the start of the year, arriving as a soon-to-be international sales graduate in February.
The German-bred son of Shamardal, purchased by the Hong Kong Jockey Club from the 2014 Arqana yearling sale in France, was sold to owner Kerm Din at the annual Hong Kong International Sale in March for HK$6 million (S$1.1 million).
His last-to-first debut in July became an online sensation around the world and the hype only increased with a second fast-finishing win in Class 3 in September.
However, he had not saluted the judge in three starts since, finishing second twice - to Mr Bogart in a Class 2 over 1,400m in October and to Simply Invincible in the same grade over a mile last month, before a last-start fifth to Eagle Way on International Day.
Cruz dropped the three-year-old back to the Griffin Trophy against his own age group, meeting just six rivals under favourable conditions at set weights.
This meant a drop back in trip from 1,600m to 1,400m off just a two-week back-up, but the trainer wanted to give his horse a confidence boost, booking champion rider Joao Moreira for his maiden ride on Pakistan Star, after Matthew Chadwick had been aboard at his first five starts.
"He never really lost his best form but he's still learning," Cruz said.
"He's still run well the last couple of times, but this looked a good race for him. Obviously, with the best jockey in Hong Kong aboard in Joao Moreira, we expected him to win today and he won very well.
"I'm very happy with that, Joao looked to have his hands full of horse at the top of the straight and he took the chance, sent him out early and won the race. We couldn't ask for more."
As a European-bred three-year-old, Pakistan Star turns four on Jan 1 and Cruz now hopes to target the three races of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series - the Hong Kong Classic Mile over 1,600m on Jan 22, the Hong Kong Classic Cup over 1,800m on Feb 19 and the BMW Hong Kong Derby over 2,000m on March 19.
Cruz is hoping to convince Moreira to retain the ride in the Hong Kong Classic Mile, with the Brazilian yet to commit to a mount for the feature.
"The next step now will be the Classic Mile," Cruz said.
"After that, it is probably the best race for him. I just hope Joao can ride him there. This is our goal."
For his part, Moreira, who already has a number of other potential bookings for the Hong Kong Classic Mile, including top-rated Rapper Dragon, indicated that he thought the horse might still be too immature to take on the very best in Hong Kong, at least for now.
"He's still a very young horse, he's still picking up," Moreira said. "I can say that now he is definitely not mature enough to be facing the top horses at this stage, but he indicates to me that he will be one of those top horses in time. It's just a matter of time."
Moreira had Pakistan Star closer than he had ever been in the run before in the small seven-horse field, never finding himself more than five lengths from front-running Sea Jade as the leader carved out solid fractions.
At the 600m mark, the rider pulled Pakistan Star out to make an early challenge and he quickly loomed up, but he was quick to suggest it wasn't as sustained a run as it may have appeared.
"It looked more of a long run than it actually was," Moreira said. "But the horses around him were just going no good, they were dropping back and their riders were pushing them and I was travelling, so I pulled him out, went for it and he was right there very quickly. It was good that he was able to do more than just sprint, but he was able to fight too."
The John Moore-trained Sea Jade finished a gallant second, two-and-three-quarter lengths behind. - HKJC