With his second straight group 1 win in the May 27 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup, Pakistan Star has gone from one of the most puzzling horses in Hong Kong history to a viable candidate for Horse of the Year.
With Tommy Berry up for the first time, the 5-year-old Shamardal gelding settled calmly just off the lead in the 2,400-meter (1 1/2-mile) fixture, the final group 1 of the season in Hong Kong. As the field hit the second turn over the Sha Tin turf, Berry pushed the button and Pakistan Star responded with a steady gain that got him home first, 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Exultant, who made the early going.
Gold Mount gained quickly from the back of the field and finished third, giving trainer Tony Cruz a 1-2-3 finish. Eagle Way and Chemical Charge completed the order of finish.
Pakistan Star, arguably the most popular horse in training in Hong Kong, was temporarily banned from racing after pulling himself up midway through the Premier Plate (G3) in June. He repeated the antics during a trial race and needed several tries to convince the stewards he had sorted out the program sufficiently to re-enter competition.
He responded with a victory in the Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1) at 2,000 meters (1 1/4 miles) April 29. The back-to-back wins not only vindicate Cruz's faith in the gelding, they put him in the running for Horse of the Year, alongside Time Warp and Beauty Generation.
"I can't express how good a job Tony has done with this horse," Berry said. "To go from not racing at the start of the season to miss December and then to win two group 1s on end—and not just to win them but to smash them—it's a big effort."
Cruz said Pakistan Star is done for this season and dismissed any rumors of impending international travel, pointing instead to either the Longines Hong Kong Cup (G1) or the Longines Hong Kong Vase (G1) when the new season is underway.
"It's going to be an all-domestic program, I think," the trainer said. "We'll stay in Hong Kong, and the main goal is to win at the international meeting in December. The fact he sees out 2,400 meters means that we could consider the Vase, but the Cup is the biggest race in Hong Kong, and he might be the best horse here. I think the 2,000 meters suits him better, too."
He said he would consider travel after next season, all being well.
Chemical Charge, trained by Ralph Beckett, made little impact in his first start since the Feb. 24 H.H. The Emir's Trophy Presented by Longines (G1) in Doha.