Pakistan Star’s apogee seems a long way distant now. That April day when Kerm Din’s pride stormed to a euphoric victory in the G1 QEII Cup (2000m) is now a bright memory shrouded in the shadow of seven straight defeats.
A full year has almost turned. What was then seen as the ascendance of a bad boy turned champion, the longed-for rise of an enigmatic hero, is now viewed as a two-race span of top level brilliance; as fleeting and breath-taking as the famous debut last-to-first dash that made his name way back in July 2016.
But the fact remains that in the 2018 QEII Cup, and again, a few weeks later in the G1 Champions & Chater Cup (2400m), Pakistan Star was the real deal and Hong Kong’s racing fans adored him for it. There was even robust debate about whether he or Beauty Generation should be Horse of the Year.
“His performance in this race last year, he just blew them away,” Paul O’Sullivan said, recalling that three-length demolition.
The Shamardal gelding’s handler was an observer at that time. Fellow Sha Tin trainer Tony Cruz was the man who had prepared Pakistan Star for his Group 1 anointing; had educated the nervous, enigmatic German-bred and turned him from “stopper” to Champion Stayer.
O’Sullivan took over the training - unexpectedly and unsought - when Din moved his horse to the next-door stable block after a dispiriting 10th of 11 in the G1 Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m) in February.
The New Zealander this week reported that Pakistan Star has shown none of the famed recalcitrance of former days as he has prepared for Sunday’s HK$24 million FWD QEII Cup.
“He’s just an ordinary horse; he’s a tough, kind, quiet sort of horse. He goes about his business,” he said.
“He has only trialled on the dirt and worked on the dirt and I don't think he’s ever given any trouble doing that. Mind you, I don’t think I’d like to be running him down the back straight or anything like that!”
The gelding’s win last year followed second-place in the 2017 edition but O’Sullivan is not sure what to expect this time. The six-year-old showed definite spark in running third in the G2 Chairman’s Trophy (1600m) last time, quickening to challenge and then stalling in the face of the mighty Beauty Generation.
“He’s a got a bit of mileage on the clock now, the old boy,” O’Sullivan said. “His last few races, he doesn't seem to have had much of a run in him. Once upon a time, he’d pull out at the 500 (metres) and keep charging to the line. Even the other day, he dashed and peaked on it. It might have been his condition, he’d had a fair while off – but he doesn't seem to have the big, long run he used to have.”
O’Sullivan is certain of one thing, though. Pakistan Star needs to be allowed to relax into his own rhythm.
“He’s just got to jump and switch off,” O’Sullivan said. “Every time he’s got charged forward in his races, he’s never kicked a yard. We won't be pressing forward, if you do that he won't be coming back to you. A barrier draw would be very important, to jump and just sit where he’s comfortable.”
Matthew Chadwick is, for the eighth time, the jockey tasked with guiding Pakistan star through a relaxed, rhythmic run.
“I think he still probably has the best sprint in the race, but he doesn’t last more than 300-400 metres - after that he just stays it out,” he said.
“I think if the Chairman’s Trophy was run again and he was able to sit in the box seat or even three back, where Conte was, it would have been interesting, because Zac (Purton) waited and waited in front on Beauty Generation. I would have just sat there and waited for the final sprint, he should have been second, easily.”
With no Beauty Generation to contend with on Sunday, if Pakistan Star finds his groove, if the rhythm gets him rolling, and if the dash is still there, then just maybe his Sha Tin acolytes could be in for another incredible two minutes.
Pakistan Star and William Buick, picture Liesl King