By David Morgan
Werther has become a bit “quirky”, as racing folk are apt to say. The reigning Hong Kong Horse of the Year has developed a reputation for roguish antics since returning to full training last month following an injury setback, but trainer John Moore retains confidence that Monday’s (30 January) G1 Stewards’ Cup (1600m) will see the five-year-old take a solid first step back on the road toward further big-race glory.
Last year’s G1 AP QEII Cup (2000m) hero - rated the fifth-best horse in the world on turf in 2016 according to the just-revealed LONGINES World’s Best Racehorse Rankings - boosted his handler’s confidence ahead of his season debut with a smart gallop yesterday morning. And the gelding’s behaviour was close to impeccable under Stewards’ Cup rider Sam Clipperton.
“He galloped very, very well with Joyful Trinity,” Moore said. “Werther worked the place down - Sam was excited to be on him.”
The 2016 BMW Hong Kong Derby winner clocked 1m 21.8s for 1200m on the turf course and closed out the final 400m in 22.8s.
“He’s very clean-winded but there’ll be further improvement, fitness-wise, from this race,” Moore said. “The Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m) next month would be the target for him but how close he is to being primed, well, it’s hard to know with him - he does funny things, he’s such a quirky horse.”
Those foibles have included hanging out at the canter, wrestling for his head, spinning around and even dumping his rider. Moore isn’t too concerned but acknowledges that his job has been tougher as a result.
“A lot of the really good ones have these quirks. Viva Pataca was a bit of a handful when he came to us and so was Collection,” Moore said as he recalled two of his past champions.
“As far as I’m concerned, Werther’s had an interrupted training programme because of his quirkiness. After his barrier trial last week he’s as sound as we can have him. His work was impressive this morning considering everything. He’s going into this race underdone but he’s clean-winded and can still run a big race.”
Another past Derby, AP QEII Cup and Horse of the Year winner in Moore’s stable is the veteran Designs On Rome. He too has his quirks and on Monday the seven-year-old will sport first-time blinkers.
“Joao Moreira was the instigator of that, he said to put a set of blinkers on because he just makes life so difficult, he gets out the back and idles, so Joao said ‘put the blinkers on and see if you can ride without urging him along the whole way’. We’ll see how it works.
“With the blinkers on in trackwork and his recent barrier trial, Douglas Whyte had commented that he just feels like he can - without having to be urged along so much - that he can just take a position in the mile.
“He’s had his problems but we’ve kept him nice and sound and hopefully he can run a nice race with a view to be going back over further in the Hong Kong Gold Cup next month.”
The Stewards’ Cup has attracted a top-class 12 entries that also includes G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile 1-2-3-4 Beauty Only, Helene Paragon, Joyful Trinity and Contentment, as well as former Horse of the Year and 2015 Stewards’ Cup winner Able Friend.
The Stewards’ Cup is the G1 feature at the Chinese New Year Raceday on Monday, 30 January. Also on the card are the G2 Centenary Sprint Cup (1200m) and the Class 1 Chinese New Year Cup Handicap (1400m).
Hugh Bowman drives Werther to commanding win in the G1 AP QEII Cup last April.