By Nicholas Godfrey
UAE: Horse racing’s internet sensation Pakistan Star is ready for an incredible comeback to the track more than 12 months after his most recent outing – on the dirt next week at Meydan in Dubai.
After his latest misdemeanour, when he pulled himself up mid-race at Sha Tin in November 2019, the idiosyncratic gelding who became known as ‘Pakistan Stop’ joined six-time UAE champion trainer Doug Watson at his Red Stables base in Dubai.
Now the American trainer is set to unleash him on the track in a Listed race at Meydan on December 3, when he is set to try dirt for the first time.
“There’s no turf racing of any significance over here at the trip he wants at the moment and he moves so well across the dirt surface,” reported Watson, who currently leads the UAE title race.
“His work’s been really good,” added the trainer, who said the seven-year-old was close to a run before the last UAE season was cut short owing to Covid-19.
“We got him in January and we were pointing to a conditions race over ten furlongs at the end of last year but obviously that didn’t go well.
“So we started him back and now we’re just a week away from him running. I don’t know what’s gonna happen on the night but he’s going to run in the Entisar, which is a ten-furlong Listed race on the dirt. He moves very smoothly across the dirt.”
One of the highest-profile Hong Kong horses of recent years, Pakistan Star became a social media phenomenon with an astonishing last-to-first display on his debut in the region in a ‘griffin’ (newcomers) race in July 2016.
That performance went viral – and the cult hero of Hong Kong racing went on to land a pair of G1 events for former trainer Tony Cruz in 2018, winning the Audemars Piguet QEII Cup and the Champions & Chater Cup.
However, to call him a ‘quirky individual’ does not do him justice given a notorious recalcitrance which saw him try (and sometimes succeed) to stop mid-race on several occasions in races and barrier trials.
Plenty of gambits were tried – blinkers on, blinkers off, Monty Roberts, change of trainers, aggressive riding tactics, a change to sprinting – but after the seven-year-old refused to race in last year’s Jockey Club Sprint, owner Kerm Din pulled the plug on his Hong Kong career and sent him to Dubai.
“He’s a really nice horse to be around and he’s training great,” reported Watson. “We can’t find one that we want to work with him that can go with him – he’s an exceptional horse, a neat horse to have. He’s a gorgeous horse, big and strong with a great middle to him.”
Watson says the son of Shamardal has largely been on his best behaviour since joining his barn. “He trains every day and he really does look like he’s enjoying it,” he said.
“Since we got him, we’ve been waiting for him to do something and so far there’s been nothing. He was just a bit hesitant one day when his lead horse shot away from him but he worked fine in the end. Touch wood, in the six months we’ve had him, he’s done everything right.”
Pakistan Star, who will run without blinkers, impressed in a recent barrier trial at Meydan, according to his trainer. “We trialled him out of the gate for the stewards and he was first out and put away a couple of nice horses with ease,” he said.
“It’s all down to how he breaks, how he handles the kickback on the dirt. We just want him to finish the race but ability-wise I can see why there’s so much talk about him because his fast work is exceptional. If he doesn’t take to the dirt, we always have the turf option at the carnival.”
Nevertheless, Watson admits he’ll “be a bit nervous” ahead of such a mercurial horse’s first run for him. “We’re looking forward to it but there’s no doubt he’s a bit of a character,” he said. “When we leg the jockey up on the dirt, it’s kind of up to Pakistan Star whether he wants to run or not!”