Horse Of Fortune fought his way to a thrilling win in the Group 3 Premier Plate Handicap (1800m) at Sha Tin on Sunday but while that admirable player was enjoying the spotlight, the leading man was acting the villain on the backstretch.
Pakistan Star, runner-up in the BMW Hong Kong Derby, second in the Group 1 QEII Cup and sent off the $1.2 favourite this afternoon to seal a first group race success, decided to bin the script.
Soon after the break, the Shamardal gelding raised his blinkered head, shortened his stride, and with only 200m of turf traversed, planted his feet.
“He wanted to stop,” said a frustrated Joao Moreira immediately after weighing-in.
“I urged him and tried hard to get him running but he just didn’t want to go.”
That left four to fight the finish.
It was anyone’s race when the quartet curved the hard white line into the home straight: Romantic Touch (130lb) held a narrow lead, Eastern Express (120lb) and Harbour Master (126lb) applied pressure, while Horse Of Fortune stalked under Callan Murray – a length covered those protagonists.
Murray took his chance when Romantic Touch rolled off the fence upon straightening; a shift that gave the young South African enough clear turf to point the Tony Millard-trained galloper towards the rail.
Eastern Express was first to falter, leaving Harbour Master and Romantic Touch locked in a duel; and then came Horse Of Fortune, creeping into the fray, edging ahead with 100m remaining and drawing away for a length and a quarter verdict.
“He was really tough in the running,” said Murray, who now numbers two group 3 scores among his four Hong Kong wins.
“I did have a pretty smooth run from the jump and just went up on the fence, I didn’t want to lose too much ground coming out and he went smooth to the line.”
Millard was delighted. The South African handler sourced the Stronghold gelding in his homeland as a group 3 placed Listed winner. The six-year-old now has six Hong Kong wins on the board and two in this grade, having won November’s Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse Handicap at the course and distance.
“He’s a fantastic horse, he cost next to nothing and he’s done a great job,” Millard said.
“He won the Ladies’ Purse this season and now he’s won this. He was a fairly ordinary horse in South Africa – he was around about the Group races but he wasn’t quite there and I think if anything he’s improved in Hong Kong.
“The plan is to run him in the mile class 1 race on the last day of the season – we’ll just see what weight he gets.
“He’s a versatile horse, he’s below top class but every race has to have a winner and that’s why you must enter. Callan gave him a really nice ride.”
Horse Of Fortune stopped the clock at 1m 48.09s, ahead of Romantic Touch, with Harbour Master, the 2015 winner, a further head back in third.
Precisely 59.01 seconds later, Pakistan Star galloped down the home straight and passed the post under Moreira to claim fifth, the Tony Cruz-trained four-year-old having relented to raise his tempo once his opponents had gone beyond catching.
Pakistan Star’s antics were a throwback to his pre-racing days. The brown gelding refused to muster a canter when first he entered the Sha Tin track for a breeze-up before the 2016 Hong Kong International Sale, and required plenty of coaxing on that occasion before he did increase his pace.
The Kerm Din-owned rising star had shown no signs of throwing in the towel in his nine previous starts this term.
Before he can race again, the Stipendiary Stewards will require the gelding to pass two consecutive satisfactory barrier trials, one of which must be contested over 1600m of the Sha Tin turf course.
– with HKJC