Jockey Matthew Chadwick is as well-acquainted with Pakistan Star as any rider, so his belief that the Shamardal gelding is reaching his peak ahead of the G1 Audemars Piguet QEII Cup (2000m) at Sha Tin on 30 April carries plenty of weight.
Chadwick was in the saddle this morning (Tuesday, 18 April) when the four-year-old showed his trademark turn of acceleration to finish first past the post in a 1200m dirt barrier trial at Sha Tin, almost three lengths clear of John Size’s Class 1 course and distance winner Eroico.
“He felt good, very good, he’s flying,” the jockey said after Tony Cruz-trained Pakistan Star clocked a time of 1m 9.66s, the fastest of three 1200m trials on the all-weather track. “It was better than his last trial going into the Derby, no doubt. He had a better response today than that day, he was a lot sharper. When I asked him, he quickened very well.”
Pakistan Star has had well-documented issues at the start in the past, particularly early in his career, but his barrier rogue days appear to be behind him based on Tuesday’s effort.
“He jumped well and he travelled nicely in behind them, about midfield,” Chadwick said. “He went a bit wide on the turn but I was happy with his stride, then Beauty Way came up his inside and he started to quicken without me switching his legs yet. I waited until the 200 metres, and then I asked him for a bit of an effort and he switched legs and he quickened again. So he’s better than last time but this is also stronger opposition.
“The way he trialled last time and this time, the main difference was his acceleration. Before the Derby, I was saying to the boys that I don’t think he can open up in those 21-second sectionals anymore. After that trial – and again, it is 2000m so it depends how it plays out – but there’s a good chance he will be able to finish off in the low-22s, that’s how he feels.”
Pakistan Star (green and white silks) crosses the line first in a 1200m dirt barrier trial at Sha Tin on Tuesday, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Chadwick rode Pakistan Star to his first two wins, but three defeats saw him replaced atop the brown gelding – first by Joao Moreira, who guided him to a victory in the Griffin Trophy (1400m), and then by Silvestre de Sousa, who was in the plate for all three legs of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series, including a last-start second in the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) behind Rapper Dragon.
UK-based De Sousa will return for the QEII Cup mount on Pakistan Star, but Chadwick – who has ridden the galloper in all but one of his Hong Kong trials – believes that the horse’s progression from his July debut to now is one of the key reasons he can make the step up to international Group 1 level.
“I said early on, give him six months to a year and he will be a different horse, a quality horse, and we’ve seen him progress through experience,” he said. “He’s taken a little bit from every start and he’s put it into action in his races. It was probably a blessing in disguise that he drew outside in the Derby, as it meant he had to go back and that is how he is best ridden. The way he’s going now, I think he can win the QEII Cup. He’s a Group 1-quality horse.”
Pakistan Star will face eight rivals in Sunday week’s contest. On the local front, he is joined by three past winners of the QEII Cup – stablemate Blazing Speed (2015) and John Moore-trained pair Designs On Rome (2014) and Werther (2016) – as well as Dennis Yip’s G2 Jockey Club Cup (2000m) winner Secret Weapon. The international raiding party features Japanese galloper Neorealism, 2016 G1 Dubai World Cup (2000m) runner-up Mubtaahij, French classic placegetter Dicton and Australian G1 winner The United States.