A crucial barrier trial at Sha Tin Racecourse on Friday Nov. 30 appeared to signal all is well with Pakistan Star and Time Warp ahead of the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races this coming Sunday.
The Tony Cruz-trained stars were required to pass a trial to the satisfaction of the racing stewards before being allowed to contest their upcoming G1 assignments – the biggest of the year in Hong Kong.
In simple terms, each horse had to finish within 10 lengths of the first past the post in today's six-furlong dirt trial, with no shenanigans. Both horses complied.
“They proved to me just now that they're fit and well,” Cruz said after Pakistan Star crossed the line in front, Time Warp having led and then boxed on two and a half lengths behind in fifth.
Pakistan Star has become something of a cult hero in Hong Kong, drawing the public's delight with sensational come-from-behind victories and shocking the world with straight-up refusals to race in other starts. Most recently, both he and his stablemate Time Warp inexplicably faded to finish well behind the field in the G2 Jockey Club Cup.
“Pakistan Star has no early speed so I just wanted to see him keep in touch, have him running in midfield. He had to go the widest, go on the outside and when he asked him, he came through.
“That shows the public that he didn't lose his form and he's a very fit horse,” he added.
Vincent Ho was atop the mercurial Hong Kong Vase candidate, keeping the saddle warm for big-race pilot William Buick; Zac Purton rode Time Warp, as usual.
“Time Warp needs 1800 meters and above and he has to have it his way. He doesn't enjoy the dirt – he showed that the two times I raced him on it – so I'm pleased with that,” Cruz added.
Mission accomplished, then. And yet, despite the pass marks gained and the apparent physical well-being of the two dual G1 winners, there was a lingering hint of a question mark about the big front-running chestnut, at least in Purton's mind.
“Time Warp passed, so that's important,” the champion jockey said. “You look at him and his coat's good, he looks nice and bright, and he looks well within himself, but he's just not giving that feel.”
Purton rode the Archipenko gelding to his two most famous wins, front-running scores in last year's G1 Hong Kong Cup and a tough-as-they-come follow-up in the G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup. Since the latter win, Time Warp's only victory – indeed, his only top seven finish – from five starts came two runs back in the G3 Sa Sa Ladies' Purse Handicap.
“He improved quickly this time last year, he came from restricted grade to put himself on the map very quickly and he hasn't held that form for long. Whether he can find it again, I'm not sure,” the rider said.
Part of Purton's concern is the still fresh memory of the Jockey Club Cup, when the British import's full-brother Glorious Forever harried him for the lead, while Pakistan Star chased that lead duo in a wide alley.
“Whether or not he can put it together again in the Cup depends on what they want to do on Glorious Forever. If they ride him like they did last time, neither of us will have a chance,” Purton said.
Cruz is in agreement with the star jockey but is also clear that Time Warp will not be ridden differently.
“Time Warp needs to find his rhythm in front, that's his style of racing. We'll stick to the same way he won last year, he can't do it another way,” he said.
And Cruz does not want to see Pakistan Star pushed forward to chase the speed this time around.
“Pakistan Star needs to sit quietly behind and just wait, not like last time when he went after them,” he said. “The horse was too fired up last time and then he was pulling, he just wanted to go – he was racing too keenly and it put him upside down.”
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