One of the most historic races in the Hong Kong calendar tops the bill at Sha Tin this Sunday (4 November) and the Group Three Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse (1800m) – with a tradition dating back over 170 years – revolves around a handful of fascinating riddles.
Can Time Warp (131lb) recapture the freewheeling brilliance that carried him to two Group 1 successes over 2000m last season?
The omens don’t look great after three consecutive flops and Zac Purton admits that the mercurial chestnut “is at the crossroads” in a race where his kid brother looms as a huge threat.
That younger brother is Glorious Forever – hugely impressive to the eye and against the clock in three wins under Purton – but can new rider Chad Schofield trim his long, lean frame down to just 113lb to capture the Purse for a second year running?
Schofield’s confidence in Frankie Lor’s fast-improving youngster is infectious, but perhaps the most intriguing riddle relates to whether the most talked about horse in Hong Kong can deliver the power-packed finish that deserted him on his first start this season.
Pakistan Star (133lb) was pipped to the Horse of the Year title by Beauty Generation last term despite signing off with two commanding Group 1 successes and returns with a point to prove after fading into fourth behind that exceptional rival in the Oriental Watch Sha Tin Trophy (1600m) on his return last month.
Tony Cruz’s gelding recorded one of the slowest final 400m splits of his entire career that day, losing ground to all the trio who beat him when it mattered, and history students will be well aware that no horse has defied top weight in the Purse since John Moore’s Viva Macau gave Purton one of his first big Hong Kong wins a decade ago.
However, Karis Teetan feels there are several factors to suggest that something much more like the real Pakistan Star will be on view this weekend.
“Beauty Generation already had a win under his belt last time and my horse was a bit fresh after his break, but he gave me a beautiful feel as he moved up in the straight and can only improve,” he said.
“Tony is working towards the International races in December and that’s our main target, but going up to 1800m is going to suit and I expect him to go out on Sunday and run a very big race.”
Teetan was keen to point out that Pakistan Star tipped the scales at 1191lb for his reappearance – the heaviest racing weight of his career – and is hoping that extra fitness and a brotherly battle for the lead between Time Warp and Glorious Forever play to his advantage this time.
“It’s going to be interesting to see what Chad does on Glorious Forever,” he added. “Is he going to try and sit behind Time Warp or is he going to let him go with that light weight? I think Pakistan Star will be more relaxed this time and if those two horses put the speed on right from the start then Pakistan Star can really let down.”
Schofield in for the long run to help do the weight on Glorious Forever
How does one of the tallest jockeys around take a couple of extra pounds off a body that hardly has a spare ounce of flesh on it?
Distance running does the job for Chad Schofield, who takes over from Zac Purton aboard Glorious Forever after a week spent pounding the roads wearing sweat jackets in the hope of doing the minimum weight.
“I run all the time so my routine won’t change too much,” he said. “I rode at 115lb to win on Elusive State on Wednesday night and if I can do a little bit lighter I will, but this is a great ride to pick up and he couldn’t have been any more impressive coming through.”
Schofield, who is also looking forward to a bold effort from the very promising Hainan Prince in Sunday’s opening L’Oreal Paris Handicap, came from well back to capture the Purse on Nassa last year but is anticipating a much different tactical plan twelve months on.
“Glorious Forever has won with cover but he’s probably best bowling along in front using that big action of his,” he added.
“I think he has an excellent chance but the danger has to be Pakistan Star. He’s still arguably the best horse in Hong Kong and even though we get a lot of weight you can never disregard him.”
Ho says Exultant shouldn’t be underestimated after promising reappearance
World traveller Vincent Ho jets off for a short break in Geneva and Barcelona after Sunday’s big race and is expecting Pakistan Star’s stablemate Exultant to send him off dreaming of HKIR success with a bold effort in the Ladies’ Purse.
Exultant came home strongly for fifth in the Sha Tin Trophy, clocking the fastest closing 400m of the race to finish just a neck behind Pakistan Star, and Ho is hoping for a top three finish as the ex-Irish gelding builds towards December.
“I really think Exultant can get in amongst them,” he said. “He’s being trained towards the big races in December but he’s getting very fit now and if they go a strong pace over 1800m then I think he will be coming home really well again.”
– News from Hong Kong Jockey Club