Last-start G1 Audemars Piguet QEII Cup winner Pakistan Star is likely to start a heavy favourite for Sunday’s G1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m) at Sha Tin, but while he may carry the weight of public expectation, his trainer Tony Cruz says that the Shamardal five-year-old may not even be the stable’s number one seed for the HK$10 million feature.
“All three of my horses have very strong chances, but to me, Exultant is the one,” Cruz said at Sha Tin on Friday morning (25 May). “He’s the one who has won big over 2400m, whereas Pakistan Star hasn’t been to the trip yet. I’m hoping I can finish 1-2-3, though.”
Group 1-placed Exultant won the G3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup Handicap (2400m) last time out with subsequent winner Prawn Baba six lengths astern. Gold Mount, second to Pakistan Star in the QEII Cup, makes up Cruz’s talented trio.
Exultant entered the Four-Year-Old Classic Series as one of the leading seeds. He ran well in each of the three legs – fourth in the Hong Kong Classic Mile, second in the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) and third in the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) – but he showed a new lease of life when stepping up to the mile and a half for the first time last start.
That day, jockey Zac Purton made a daring mid-race move, whipping around the field to take up the running passing the 1200m. It showed a level of race sense that the Irish import had yet to demonstrate in Hong Kong, and Cruz believes that the galloper – formerly named Irishcorrespondent – may now be able to make all if circumstances permit.
“He’s come through the race very well, he’s in top form,” Cruz said. “I think he will run a big race again, he’s just as fit as last time. He showed last time that he could be ridden on the pace and I think he just has one speed so in this race, where there is no speed, he could be the one to take it up.”
Exaltant and Zac Purton, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Brett Prebble, who had his first raceday ride on Exultant two starts back when the Teofilo four-year-old finished second in a Class 2 over 2200m, takes the mount on Sunday.
“After I got off him, I thought he was crying for the 2400m or even the 3200m,” Prebble said. “He’s a genuine stayer with very good ability. The 2000m here is probably a little bit sharp for him. I’m looking forward to getting on him over the 2400m and it will be a very interesting race.
“Obviously there are only a few runners so it could be interesting tactically. From (gate) one, I could see myself ending up in the box seat and enjoying the run of the race, but with only five runners, anything could happen.”
Gold Mount returns to the Sha Tin 2400m for the fourth time in his career. He finished third in the Queen Mother Memorial Cup last term before finishing fifth in both this race last year as well as December’s G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase.
“Gold Mount’s also a real stayer, but he needs pace on to suit him,” Cruz said. “He’s got a big heart and a big last quarter, he’ll come motoring home at 100 miles an hour. I think he’s got a real chance too if he gets a suitable race.”
Alberto Sanna, who rode the Excellent Art five-year-old to victory in the Class 1 Happy Valley Vase Handicap (1800m) two starts ago before again partnering the bay last start, will be legged aboard on Sunday.
“I do wish it had been a bigger field for him,” Sanna admitted. “I would have been much more positive for him if he had a good pace to run at, and a good pace would have made it a real mile and a half test. This will be more like a 2000m race. I will just jump out, ride my own race and let the horse be where he is comfortable – whether it is on the speed or back 10 lengths last. If I am in front, though, you know that it is a very slow tempo!
“Everyone has already declared Pakistan Star the winner and Exultant the main danger, but this horse is very honest and very capable on his day. Of course, I hope I can ride my first Group 1 winner in Hong Kong, but this horse cannot be forgotten.”
As for Pakistan Star, Cruz believes he has the talent to win the Champions & Chater Cup but he admits to being worried about a potentially tactical race.
“Last start showed what we have known for a while, that he has got Group 1 ability,” Cruz said. “The extra 400m is something new and you never know until they try it but it shouldn’t be much of a problem. He’s really in top form now, as we saw from his recent trial when he won so easily.
“Mentally, he likes to chase horses so this race, with no pace, is a concern. He’s got to have some pace on. I don’t want any surprises with Pakistan Star – I don’t want him to go to the front and then stop, we haven’t got time for that kind of nonsense from him, so I want him to stick to what he has shown he appreciates.”
Tommy Berry, who has partnered Pakistan Star in two trials, will take his first raceday ride aboard the Hong Kong International Sale graduate.
British raider Chemical Charge and the John Moore-trained Eagle Way complete the field of five for the Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup. Programmed as the eighth of 11 races, the feature will jump at 4.05pm.