By David Morgan
Werther whisked through the mist at Sha Tin this morning with a business-like final gallop ahead of Sunday’s HK$20 million Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2000m) that reinforced John Moore’s opinion that last year’s winner is in the right zone to repeat the feat.
The trainer watched from beyond the winning post as the blinkered bay moved with assured strength down the turf home straight to finish on top of his companion, one-time smart sprinter Leading City: “The best lead horse you could wish for,” according to Moore.
Sam Clipperton filled the irons for the 6.30am hit-out, with big-race pilot Hugh Bowman due to fly in from Australia. Werther was clocked at 1m 20.0s (28.0, 29.1, 22.9) for the final 1200m of his work.
“I’m very pleased, we’re going in with confidence,” Moore said shortly afterwards. “Sam said he was really strong to the line here and very strong through the line. He said the horse wasn’t going to pull-up, he was going on, so that’s very indicative of what the feedback was at this time last year.
“We’re going in with a very fit horse. He’s bang on. Vincent, my English riding boy who rode him in the trotting ring this morning, he mentioned that he was very, very free.”
Moore rates Japan’s Neorealism and the local hype horse Pakistan Star as Werther’s two biggest dangers on Sunday.
“If Neorealism doesn’t bring his ‘A’ game, Pakistan Star will be the horse to beat. But Werther’s world class and they’ve all got to bring their very best to beat him,” he said. “And he only has to walk from his box over there, to the track here and then he’s back into his tucker in no time. Home advantage is a big factor.”
Werther missed the first part of this season due to a suspensory injury to his off-hind, including December’s G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup. The belligerent gelding returned to action in January’s G1 Stewards’ Cup (1600m), maintained his perfect course and distance record in the G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup, and was a solid fourth behind Rapper Dragon in the G2 Chairman’s Trophy (1600m) earlier this month.
Moore is satisfied that Hong Kong’s reigning Horse of the Year has benefitted from a light campaign.
“Sam said that that run at the mile last time has done him the world of good and really topped him off,” he said. “Missing that first part of the season might not have been a bad thing because he’s only really got going since the turn-of-the-year to now, so he’s on a perfect prep.
“Last year he had a tough campaign, starting in December after import and taking in those tough four-year-old races, including the Derby, he really had to show us what he was made of. This time he’s only been aiming at this race. Everything has been a prep to get to this race and it’s only his fourth run of the season.”
Werther caught the eye when returning to trackwork towards the end of last year with his recalcitrant antics, and, while the son of Tavistock has toned things down as his prep has progressed, he is far from sainthood.
“He still plays up a little bit in the mornings and on race days he’ll try and cow-kick you, but that’s just him,” Moore said.
Old Rome’s still battling
A short time before Werther set camera’s clicking, Designs On Rome galloped the turf in company with one of Moore’s rising talents, Booming Delight.
There was a time, not so long ago, when the flash bulbs would have been reserved for Designs On Rome, a former Horse of the Year whose four Group 1 wins include the 2014 APQEII Cup and the same year’s G1 Hong Kong Cup. The seven-year-old’s best days appear to have passed, though, and whilst still a high-class competitor, his handler is not expecting the old hero to regain the Cup.
“He’s a bit of the forgotten horse in the race, rising eight at the end of this year,” Moore said. “Henry, who rides him every morning, he commented that he’s well enough at this stage of his prep. I couldn't get him any fitter than he is.
“His best days are behind him, though. He’s got as big a heart as you would ever want in a horse but the age – if he could run third or fourth it would be a very good result. Anything in front of that would be a bonus.”
The Holy Roman Emperor gelding opened this season with a rip-roaring win at a mile under top-weight in a G2 handicap but his best effort in five starts since was a four and a quarter lengths sixth to Werther in the Hong Kong Gold Cup. Last time, in the Chairman’s Trophy, the Irish-bred beat one home.
“We seem to have him as good as we can get him at this stage of his prep and career. He’s done a great job for us and he owes us nothing now,” Moore said.
Werther (near side) with Sam Clipperton on board works with lead horse Leading City.
Designs On Rome (near side) gallops with Booming Delight ahead of Sunday��s APQEII Cup.