Werther delivered a timely reminder of his significant abilities this afternoon, Sunday, 28 May, with a clear-cut victory in the HK$10 million Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup, Hong Kong’s final Group 1 this term.
“He’s back to his best! That was a fair test and he’s put them away quite easily in the end,” said trainer John Moore after Hong Kong’s reigning Horse of the Year had stormed three lengths clear of six rivals for a first score at the distance.
Stablemate Basic Trilogy ensured a sound tempo in the mile and a half feature, cutting out the running from two-time winner Blazing Speed. Werther parked a stalking third, his usual blinkers abandoned and cruise control engaged under Hugh Bowman.
“That was all class,” Moore declared. “The race was run to suit everybody and Hugh was able to get the horse into a nice rhythm. The key factor, too, was taking the blinkers off. When Hugh spoke to me a few weeks back he said, ‘Would you consider taking the blinkers off?’ and I said, ‘Done’. I didn’t even think about it, the blinkers just came off.”
His vision unfettered, the Tavistock gelding ranged widest upsides Basic Trilogy and Blazing Speed on the final turn. Neil Callan, aware of the threat to his left flank, began punching for home on last year’s winner; Bowman remained unruffled. Werther’s momentum had already edged the lead by the time the Australian decided to muster and drive. Runner-up Blazing Speed hung on to his tail until the 200m point but that final furlong belonged to Werther, the bay extending clear to clock 2m 29.26s (a storming 22.33s for the final 400m).
“Although my gut feeling was that 2400 (metres) was probably beyond his premium distance, I think he proved today that he’s got no drama with it, as long as he can relax within himself, and he was able to do it this afternoon with the blinkers off,” said Bowman, who was registering a 15th win at the highest level since partnering Werther to glory in the April, 2016 Audemars Piguet QEII Cup (2000m).
The five-year-old, second pick in the market at 3.0, sign-posted today’s performance when running a half-length third to Neorealism in last month’s edition of the QEII Cup, an admirable effort given that the New Zealand-bred finished that race with blood in his trachea.
“He was aided today by a horse that went a nice, even gallop in front – something that he didn’t receive last start in the QEII, it was a very slowly run race that day and he was inclined to over-race with me,” Bowman said.
Moore was fairly confident, heading into today’s test, that the 2016 BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) hero would hand him a sixth victory in the race and a first since Mighty High in 2011.
“He worked with an inferior horse the other day and he did it just so kindly. The riding boy got off and said, ‘Boss, he’s ready to win’,” the handler said. “The blinkers will stay off now; I won’t be tempted to put them back on.”
This afternoon’s win was Werther’s second of a light, five-race campaign that began at the end of January. With February’s G1 Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m) also in the bag, Moore’s stable star ends his campaign with wins in the last two legs of the Hong Kong Triple Crown series, and is one of only two horses, alongside stablemate Helene Paragon – first leg winner in the Stewards’ Cup – to land two G1 victories at Sha Tin this term.
Time will tell, but in a tight year with no dominant force following the loss of the outstanding four-year-old Rapper Dragon, Werther has re-entered calculations for Horse of the Year honours; after that, Moore is looking to December’s LONGINES Hong Kong International Races, and today’s blinker-less win at the extended trip has widened the scope for a horse that was officially rated fifth best in the world last year.
“That’s opened up options,” Moore said. “We’ll look at giving him an entry in the Hong Kong Cup (2000m) and the Hong Kong Vase (2400m) at the international meeting in December. We’ll see what the fields are like, the competition, and how the horse is, fitness-wise, leading into those races.”
Moore’s success with Werther ended trainer Tony Cruz’s four-year dominance in the Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup. The Cruz-trained Blazing Speed, as usual, tried his best for connections.
“He ran a courageous race, but I didn’t expect anything different. Every time I ride him, he gives me everything,” Callan said, before paying tribute to Werther.
“I knew last start though, I pulled upsides Werther at the finish of the QEII and he’d run a monstrous race because he was coughing his head off. For a horse to run that well and not be 100 percent, I was sure he would come here in tip-top shape.
“I think it’s just that my fella is getting a little bit older,” the Irishman continued. “The other horses are coming through, but one thing’s for sure – he always goes down fighting like a champion.”
Moore was also responsible for the third and fourth home. Eagle Way, the 2.0 favourite, closed to finish a nose third under Joao Moreira, while Helene Charisma was four lengths back in fourth for Douglas Whyte. That pair had fought out a tight finish to the G3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup Handicap at the course and distance the time before.
“It was a good run, he was brave, but he was just beaten by better horses,” Moreira, who rode a treble on the afternoon, said.
Whyte, meanwhile, was of the opinion that last year’s G1 Grand Prix de Paris (2400m) winner, Helene Charisma, “would have been better with a bit more give in the ground.”
In the day’s secondary feature, the G3 Sha Tin Vase Handicap (1200m), young South African ace Callan Murray continued the impressive start he has made to his first Hong Kong contract, partnering 88/1 shot Lucky Year to victory for trainer Danny Shum.
Hong Kong racing resumes at Sha Tin for an evening all-weather card on Wednesday, 31 May.
Source: The Hong Kong Jockey Club (David Morgan)