It has been a trying season for jockey Tommy Berry, but the Australian rider is confident that he can salvage something from the term when he partners Pakistan Star in the final Group 1 of the term, the Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m) at Sha Tin on Sunday.
A frequent fly-in, fly-out visitor in recent years, Berry relocated to Hong Kong at the start of the season as stable rider to trainer John Moore. Having arrived with high hopes, the 27-year-old has endured a lean season in which he has recorded just 13 winners. The partnership with Moore came to an end in late-March, and Berry admits that his confidence took a hit.
“It’s been more down than up, to be fair,” Berry said. “I haven’t had a lot of luck and, when you don’t have much luck, you can get down in confidence. To get a ride like this, though, it obviously brings the confidence right back up, and to win on Pakistan Star would make my season. It would make anyone’s season, but for me, it would mean a lot for sure.
“Any Group 1 is great and to ride a horse who, on his day, is the best horse in Hong Kong, it would be very special and it would be a nice way to finish the season.”
Like Berry, the 2017/18 term has been a rollercoaster ride for Pakistan Star – barred from racing after stopping mid-race late last season, his season appeared in jeopardy when he pulled himself up in a barrier trial in October.
However, he was able to return to the races in February, gaining fitness through three runs before finally fulfilling his promise last time out with a stirring success in the G1 Audemars Piguet QEII Cup (2000m) with William Buick in the saddle.
Buick, who serves as Godolphin’s retained rider in Britain, was the beneficiary of a jockey merry-go-round before the QEII Cup.
Originally, Pakistan Star was to be ridden by Silvestre de Sousa, but when de Sousa could not make the trip, Kerrin McEvoy was booked to take the mount. Unfortunately, McEvoy could not fly to Hong Kong due to an ear infection, and so Buick was the lucky man in the hot seat when the Shamardal five-year-old raced clear for an imperious three-length victory in the HK$24 million feature.
Pakistan Star and William Buick, picture Liesl King
However, Berry reveals that he was also in the mix when it first became apparent that de Sousa was unlikely to return.
“Tony asked me to ride him in the QEII, actually, but about 30 minutes before that I had taken the ride on the Japanese horse (Danburite),” Berry said. “When I take rides, I don’t like to get off them, especially with the Japanese because they have been very good to me in the past and hopefully in the future. So I stuck with my decision, knowing that it could possibly be the wrong one.
“I told Tony that I was still happy to trial him before the QEII, even though I wasn’t on him. I did so, he gave me a great feel, and Tony and the connections said that I could ride him from after the QEII onwards. Obviously, when he won, I thought that William would probably get the ride back.”
Buick, though, is required to ride at the Curragh this weekend at the Irish Guineas Festival, which has left the door open for Berry to have his first raceday ride on Pakistan Star.
“I’m very excited to have the opportunity,” Berry said. “I’m very grateful to the owners and to Tony and I can’t wait for Sunday’s race.”
Berry rode Pakistan Star in a 1200m dirt trial last Friday (18 May), with the gelding racing near the speed before striding out to record a three and a quarter length “win” in quick time.
“He felt as good as he possibly could have,” said the rider. “He’s got an incredible set of lungs, he pulls up very well in the wind. He’s only got to go like that on Sunday and he will be very hard to beat.”
Only four rivals will tackle Pakistan Star on Sunday. Stablemate Gold Mount and the Moore-trained Eagle Way, second and third in the QEII Cup respectively, will reoppose, as will another Cruz trainee, last-start G3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup Handicap (2400m) winner Exultant.
Also running is the Ralph Beckett-trained Chemical Charge, who will become the first international visitor to contest the HK$10 million Champions & Chater Cup. Fourth to Highland Reel in the LONGINES Hong Kong Vase at the course and distance in December, he finished midfield in the Emir’s Trophy, a Qatari G1 at 2400m, at his last start in February.
The small field could lend itself to a tactical affair, but Berry is focused on keeping Pakistan Star in his comfort zone.
“I’m not sure how it will play out,” Berry admitted. “I don’t want to get caught up too much in overthinking it. There doesn’t look to be any speed in the race at all. Exultant obviously took off around them and led the other day, he could be up there again.
“I wouldn’t really want to end up in front, but if that’s how it ends up, we’ll be there. He’s not a horse that you want to be fighting just to take a sit in behind them. There are five horses in it, I’ll jump out and ride him as quietly as I can under the circumstances and we’ll see where we are – I really don’t know.”
The Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup is one of two features on the card, with the G3 Sha Tin Vase Handicap (1200m) also set to be run on Sunday.