Horse Racing
Pakistan Star to O’Sullivan, handler looks to continue upturn at Happy Valley

By By David Morgan
26/02/2019 15:13

Dual G1 winner Pakistan Star is joining the Paul O’Sullivan stable.
Dual G1 winner Pakistan Star is joining the Paul O’Sullivan stable.

Paul O’Sullivan moved off the foot of the trainer standings when Planet Star won at Sha Tin on Sunday, the handler’s second win in as many meetings during an otherwise barren February, and his campaign has taken a further upturn with news of another “Star” heading his way.

Pakistan Star is on the move. The two-time Group 1 winner, one of Hong Kong’s highest profile horses due to his bamboozling mix of brilliant ability and at times wayward behaviour, will make the short walk from Tony Cruz’s stable block to take up residence in the O’Sullivan barn.

“It’s nice to get the chance to train him,” the New Zealander said at Sha Tin this morning, Tuesday, 26 February. “It will be nice to have a runner in Group races again, that hasn’t happened for a year or so. We’ll see how we go.”

O’Sullivan has found wins tough to come by since the retirement of his last stable star, Hong Kong’s champion sprinter Aerovelocity. When owner Kerm Din asked him unexpectedly to take over the training of Pakistan Star, the man with only nine victories on the board this season was willing to oblige.

“Anybody would be happy to train him,” he said. “But with him comes the challenges, he’s not straightforward so hopefully a change of environment, things might improve, who knows?

“Mr. Din called me last week, we had a coffee on Saturday and he’s a straightforward, quiet-speaking sort of guy – the good thing about him was he never rubbished anybody, he wasn’t critical of Tony or the jockeys or anything like that.”

Paul O’Sullivan’s last Group race starter was Aerovelocity in January 2017.
Paul O’Sullivan’s last Group race starter was Aerovelocity in January 2017.

Din purchased Pakistan Star out of the 2016 Hong Kong International Sale (March) and the horse became an internet hit with a sensational last-to-first debut win that July. The Shamardal gelding overcame behavioural issues, including a stop-start display during a race in June 2017, to sweep the G1 QEII Cup and G1 Champions and Chater Cup last term. But this season there has been little of his old dash in six runs.

Cruz expressed disappointment at losing a horse he and his staff have spent many hours educating over almost three years.

“I did my best but he wasn’t an easy horse to handle in the beginning, he was full of habits but we all like this horse very much,” the trainer said.

“It was great to win the two Group 1s but there was a lot of pressure with this horse, it was on all of us in the stable and now I feel so much tension off me. But at the same time, nobody likes to see a horse like that go. I wish them all the best.”

Brothers in arms

Band Of Brothers passes the post fourth in a Happy Valley barrier trial.

Pakistan Star aside, O’Sullivan is hoping to maintain his spark of winning form into a third fixture on the bounce. The handler has a number of young horses which he hopes have the potential to lift his win total through the latter part of the season.

Band Of Brothers is one of those and the four-year-old makes his career debut at Happy Valley on Wednesday night (27 February) in the Class 4 Shing Yip Handicap (1200m) under the circuit’s current form jockey, Zac Purton.

“He’s a very nice horse, whether he’s forward enough to win from gate nine first time out – I think he’s a horse to follow,” O’Sullivan said. “If he gets the right run in the race I’d expect him to be competitive but gate nine at the Valley can be very tricky for a horse having his first start.”

Purton heads to the Valley off a six-timer at Sha Tin on Sunday, which followed a treble at last week’s downtown fixture.

“Band Of Brothers is like a lot of O’Sullivan horses, he’s just big and raw, but he’s got a little bit of speed and a bit of ability,” the champion jockey said.

“It’s an awkward gate but he’s definitely a horse that’s capable. He’s trialled at the Valley and seems to get around there well enough so I’m not overly worried about that, I’m just worried about where I’m going to be in the run.”

Oriental Elite breaks his maiden under Douglas Whyte.
Oriental Elite breaks his maiden under Douglas Whyte.

The Kiwi and the Aussie, who teamed for some incredible days with Aerovelocity, will also combine with the lightly-raced five-year-old Oriental Elite in the Class 4 Mut Wah Handicap (1000m).

“He’s typical of Paul’s horses, he just took a few starts to work things out,” Purton said. “It was a nice effort last time, he’s obviously had a setback since then and time off, but fresh, back at the Valley, hopefully he can ping.”

And O’Sullivan was quick to point out the merits of the Jockey Club’s Conghua facility on the Chinese Mainland in helping prepare the Star Witness gelding.

“He’s got recurring soundness issues and at the beginning of the season we sent him up to Conghua, and if it wasn’t for Conghua he wouldn’t be there on Wednesday night, I’m sure of that,” he said.

“He’s done plenty of work, plenty of trials, he’s pretty forward so he’ll be an interesting runner but we have to bear in mind that he hasn’t run for a long time. He’s a horse that I think will eventually end up in Class 3, he’s in Class 4 at the moment, so if he gets the right run in the race from gate seven he should be pretty competitive.”

Wednesday’s card starts at 7.15pm with the Class 5 Yue Man Handicap (1650m) and concludes at 10.50pm with section two of the Class 3 Hoi Yuen Handicap (1200m).