Pakistan Star is behaving like a model athlete these days, but despite the once recalcitrant galloper’s apparent reformation, stablemate Time Warp is the horse that gets trainer Tony Cruz’s vote for Sunday’s (25 February) G1 Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m).
“I still think Time Warp’s the one,” Cruz said as he watched Pakistan Star head out to the training track at Sha Tin this morning (23 February).
Cruz has three contenders in the HK$10 million feature with Gold Mount also in the nine-strong field alongside his two high-profile yard mates. The handler takes the view that tackling race-sharp rivals over 2000 metres first-up for the season might be too much even for Pakistan Star, despite a sensational barrier trial last week.
“He’s not racing fit, he hasn’t been to the races since June and he hasn’t actually raced properly since April, so it’s a lot for him to do to win this race first time out, this is a starting-point,” he said.
While Pakistan Star was banned to the sidelines after stopping in a G3 handicap last June, Time Warp made all for a brilliant win in December’s G1 Hong Kong Cup (2000m). Cruz believes that performance, allied to superior fitness, means the strapping chestnut will be hard to beat this weekend even after an unsatisfactory 10th in last month’s G1 Stewards’ Cup (1600m) after an awkward start.
“We all know Time Warp needs further than the mile so he’s back at his distance now,” Cruz said. “We saw what he did in the Hong Kong Cup in December, and this race on Sunday will really suit him. I’m very happy with his training, he’s been doing everything right.”
Jockey Zac Purton is looking forward to consigning that Stewards’ Cup run to the “best forgotten” bin by replicating his Hong Kong Cup ride on Time Warp.
“Things just didn’t go right last time,” Purton said. “I’d only had one previous ride on him and that was on International day. On that day he was quiet as a lamb, he didn’t do anything wrong, so I didn’t expect he was going to play up in the gates, and to be honest he stood there very quietly until the gates opened, he just jumped in the air.”
That meant Time Warp missed the break and raced wide. The Archipenko gelding never found his rhythm and faded when questions were asked.
“He caught me completely unaware and once that happened he was just out of position,” the rider added. “Now that I’m aware of that and I’ve been able to ride him in a trial, changed a couple of things, hopefully we’ve rectified that and it won’t happen again.”
Purton enjoyed an untroubled ride in December but anticipates that his rivals will be wiser this time around.
“I don’t think they’re going to let him have it as easy out in front as what he had in December but I feel if they do put a bit of pressure on he should still be able to handle it anyway,” he said.
Cruz is unfazed by that possibility. “I don’t think any horse can get up there to bother him,” he said. “He’s the fastest around, he goes a fast pace in front, it’s not like he’s going slowly out in front, he’s galloping at a good speed.”
Purton, though, does fear Pakistan Star, especially after witnessing the Shamardal gelding’s recent trial in which he drew three and a half-lengths and more clear of Sunday’s rivals Werther and Seasons Bloom.
“I’ve always said I thought (Pakistan Star) was the best mile and a quarter horse we had here in Hong Kong,” he said. “Now that he’s had that break – that little bit of time off – he seems as if he’s furnished a little bit more, it might have actually been a good thing for him. The way he put Werther away in the trial the other day was quite scary. If he reproduces that then we may not be able to beat him anyway.”
Cruz, despite misgivings about Pakistan Star’s race fitness, is delighted with the progress the German-bred has made in recent months. He expects a good showing from a gelding that until a couple of weeks ago was seen as the bad boy of the Sha Tin stable blocks.
“I’m very pleased with him, he’s taking it all very well and he’s a happy horse now,” Cruz said. “He’s a stronger horse than ever, too. It’s a big change with him from last season to this season – he looks like he wants to race, he wants to win.
“The aim is the QEII Cup for him at the end of April but there’s not much between now and then. We’ll see how he gets through this race first and then we’ll start looking at mapping a plan for him.”
Pakistan Star has won HK$15 million in prize money since graduating from the Hong Kong International Sales in March, 2016.
As for Gold Mount, Cruz is hoping for some luck with his deep-closer.
“He’s one of the best stayers around,” he said. “In the Hong Kong Vase he got a bit of traffic otherwise we definitely would have run second or third. He’s got a very big heart and he loves to race.”
Purton has partnered the gelding in his four starts this term but Christophe Soumillon will jet in to ride the five-year-old.
“Gold Mount’s had a few little things go wrong for him in each of his races this season, and being a back marker that quite often happens,” Purton said. “It’s very hard to get off Time Warp after the performance he put up on international day and just his racing style – you know he’s going to be out there giving himself every chance. They’re both very good horses.”
The Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup also features Eagle Way, Helene Charisma, Secret Weapon and Dinozzo.