“Fat, raw, up behind but quality”: That is the page note for Lot 158 in Mark Richards’ carefully filed 2014 Arqana Deauville August Yearling Sale catalogue. The young Shamardal colt it refers to had arrived at the sale ground later than most from its birthplace, Gestüt Wittekindshof in Sauerland, Germany, for a destiny-shaping walk around the auction ring.
“He was a good foal and he became a nice yearling, with a good gallop, nice enough for the sale at Deauville,” says Karl Jörg, stud manager at Wittekindshof; a rough diamond of a horseman and highly-respected among his peers. “Normally, it is not so common for the German horses to go to the August sale at Deauville but he was a good walker, everything about him was good, he was very suitable.”
Richards, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Executive Manager, International Sale, was among those who thought so, too. The Club snapped up the classically-bred youngster for €180,000.
“His quality was unmistakeable but I remember his coat was a little bit sun-bleached,” Richards recalls. “Wittekindshof horses are known for their quality, they have some fantastic bloodlines; and their approach seems to be a more natural one, allowing the horses to develop and mature as nature intended which means you get a healthy, hardy individual.”
The brown-hued youngster had already been registered as Ninas Shadow when Richards cast eyes over him for the first time outside Box 169 at the Deauville sale ground’s Yard B. But would the Ninas Shadow moniker have had the same appeal as Pakistan Star? Doubtless his early exploits would not have made the pages of Pakistan’s Lahore-based English language daily, The Nation, for a start.
On Sunday, in the HK$20 million G1 Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2000m), Pakistan Star will aim to fulfil the hype and expectations that have followed him ever since he made a sensational winning debut at Sha Tin last July. That detached-last-to-first torpedo of a run exploded around the internet, from Hong Kong to Hyderabad and many points between and beyond.
The media buzz that has ensued is a far cry from the pastoral tranquillity of the forest-hemmed 56-hectare Gestüt Wittekindshof, located 80 kilometres or so east of Dortmund and owned by the industrialist and horse afficionado, Hans-Hugo Miebach. The farm is a renowned nursery that has produced a slew of high-class racehorses, notably the German champion Tiger Hill, and, among its five German Oaks heroines within the past 20 or so years, Pakistan Star’s second and third dams, Next Gina and Night Petticoat. His own dam, Nina Celebre scored twice at Listed level and was sixth in that fillies’ classic.
“The dam has been very good, she is a really nice mare,” Jörg says. “The family is very good and we have not sold a good mare – we keep the family at Wittekindshof, the good mares that are good racehorses, they return to the farm.
“Pakistan Star was a foal share arrangement with Darley. His younger half-sister, Networking, is with Godolphin, with Andre Fabre in France. The foals by stallions with big prices, they all are foal shares; stallions like Kingman, Sea The Stars, Gleneagles, Camelot; this is our business way.
“He also has a Lawman sister in England and the mare has a yearling by Mastercraftsman and she is in foal to Golden Horn, she will foal in May,” he adds.
The must-buy horse
From rural Germany, via Deauville, Pakistan Star was sent, along with the Jockey Club’s other European auction purchases, to Malcolm Bastard’s base at Baydon Hill Farm, Wiltshire; a rustic English vista of rolling hills, hedgerows and copses. A year and a half of conditioning later, the gelded son of Shamardal found himself on the other side of the globe with a date at the March, 2016 Hong Kong International Sale.
One week out from that important night, the three-year-old caused palpitations for the sale team and mirth for the gathered Breeze-Up watchers as he planted himself upon entering the Sha Tin turf track and had to be cajoled for several minutes before relenting to move.
Jörg remembers a “nice, quiet horse with a very good temperament” and the gelding’s trainer, Tony Cruz, is of the view that Pakistan Star’s Breeze-Up performance was more to do with shyness and immaturity than any innate streak of recalcitrance.
“He was totally lost that day,” Cruz says. “He was very inexperienced and just lacked a bit of education in the new environment. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do. He’s changed a lot since then.”
That episode did not deter Cruz or veteran owner Kerm Din. Six days later, Din went to HK$6 million to ensure the horse would carry his green and white-starred silks and the synonymous Pakistan prefix.
“I had a permit and I told Tony I wanted to buy a horse from the Jockey Club auction. Tony said to me, ‘There’s one horse I like, the Shamardal gelding’, and he told me that no matter what price the horse went to, I had to buy it. So, I promised Tony and he told me what to do,” says Din, a self-made businessman whose father emigrated from Pakistan to Hong Kong as a young man.
“When I saw the horse, I loved it. There was something about him, something there that, if he could change his immature behaviour he could be a very good horse - there was a challenge there.”
Maturing to the challenge
Cruz has never been one to shirk a challenge and the man who navigated the career of Silent Witness, Hong Kong’s most famous champion, has guided the once-hesitant gelding with the blazing stretch drive to three wins from nine starts and second place behind Rapper Dragon in both the Hong Kong Classic Cup and, latterly, Hong Kong Derby.
“He’s still maturing, he’s getting stronger and improving each time he races,” Cruz says. “He’s starting to race like a professional now and he’s at a stage where he knows the game now, he knows it well. As he races he’s becoming a better racehorse. He hardly makes any mistakes nowadays.”
Cruz and Din retain unwavering faith in the horse and each is adamant that he will be even better next year.
“Tony has done a good job and we can see that he is starting to grow up now,” Din says. “We need to give him a chance and if we give him more time he should be very nice for next season. When he turns five, I think he will run-up with any horse!”
And Cruz, not one for sentimental declarations, is clearly taken with the rising star who will line up on Sunday off a rating of 103, fully 30 points higher than at the start of this season.
“He’s a lovely horse, he’s growing up a lot and he’s great around the yard, so easy to deal with. He’s a darling of a horse now,” he says with unmistakable affection.
As for his imminent first foray into Group 1, those connected with Pakistan Star, past and present, are looking forward to seeing how the German-bred will fare.
“Just getting the chance to run in this race is already an achievement,” Din says. “You buy a horse and you hope, so to see him here is a happy thing and I hope he does a good job on Sunday.”
Cruz has his charge fighting fit and is pleased that the lack of urgency in the early stages of Pakistan Star’s races that led to his viral celebrity seems, perhaps, to be a thing of the past; and he is holding to the promise of a fast-finishing second in the Derby, from a bad gate, as being form enough to make his mark under Brazilian ace Silvestre de Sousa.
“Silvestre knows the horse well and he ran a hell of a good race last time. If he’d had a better draw I’m sure he’d have challenged the winner in the Derby,” Cruz says.
Jörg has been watching from afar and recalls with poignancy a past Wittekindshof star to have raced in Hong Kong.
“I’ve watched Pakistan Star and I thought his last barrier trial was very good,” he says. “Elle Danzig went to Hong Kong 17 years ago (fifth in the G1 Hong Kong Cup). She was our champion mare, and she died two weeks ago. Hopefully, Pakistan Star will run very well in Hong Kong on Sunday.”
Pakistan Star completes his famous deep run to land his second win at Sha Tin last September.
Owner Kerm Din with Pakistan Star.