By David Morgan
John Moore is confident he has Werther in a good place heading into Sunday’s (28 May) HK$10 million Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup, one of only three mile-and-a-half contests in the Hong Kong calendar and the season’s final Group 1.
Werther was a hot 1.7 favourite for victory in last year’s edition following a wide-margin success in the G1 Audemars Piguet QEII Cup (2000m), but the subsequent Horse of the Year missed out by a whisker in a three-way bob of heads, finishing third behind two-time winner Blazing Speed and stablemate Victory Magic.
“You have to remember that last season’s Champions & Chater Cup came at the end of a tough programme,” Moore said this morning (Tuesday, 23 May). “This time, because of the setback he had earlier in the season, Werther hasn’t got the mileage on him. Last year, he went in a little bit on the tired side after going through the Four-Year-Old Series and winning the Derby then the QEII, but this time he’s going in ready for it.”
Lameness in his off-hind back in August meant that Werther did not enter the fray this season until the end of January. His four starts since his return have yielded a win in February’s G1 Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m); last time out, the five-year-old was a brave half-length third in the QEII Cup behind Japan’s Neorealism.
That frame-making run came despite the Tavistock gelding pulling up after the line with an issue. “He had some blood in the trachea,” Moore said.
But the handler believes that was “a one-off” caused by the slow-to-go nature of that race and confidence is up again after Werther’s last two pieces of work. The New Zealand-bred galloped under Sam Clipperton last Thursday, clocking 1m 21.2s (29.8, 27.3, 24.1) for 1200m on the all-weather circuit, and on Monday had a routine exercise through 800m on the same track in 57.3s (31.3, 26.0).
“We gave him a searching gallop last week and on the Monday he had to pass a veterinary examination,” Moore revealed. “They put the scope down and there was no trace of anything in there, so I think it was all to do with the fact that they went no speed in the QEII and he was coupled up more than you would want. I do think it was a one-off thing.”
Despite that close third in this race 12 months ago and a second-place finish in the G1 South Australian Derby (2500m), Werther has not registered a win beyond 2200m. But the trainer was clear in his response when asked if he had any worry that the trip might be a distance too far.
“No!” was Moore’s emphatic reply.
“Hopefully, he can draw the right gate and we can put him to sleep with the speed in front of him – I’m expecting they’ll go a good tempo, none of this having a cup of tea on the backstretch!” he continued.
Moore is set to saddle five of the seven runners in Sunday’s feature. Two of those, the G1-winning four-year-old’s Eagle Way and Helene Charisma, signposted their intent when first and second in last month’s G3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup at the course and distance, but the handler still considers Werther to be the one they all have to beat.
“Werther’s got the writing on the wall,” he said. “He’s done everything right leading into the race, he’s got Australia’s premier jockey on board and I told Hugh (Bowman) the other day that he’s going to be riding a very fit horse on Sunday.
“Of my others, Eagle Way’s last run suggests he’s going to give Werther a run for his money, and if we were to get some rain on Sunday, Helene Charisma would relish it.”
Moore is looking to lift the cup for a sixth time, his latest triumph being Mighty High’s score in 2011, and although his stable faces only two outside rivals, that pair hails from the powerful Tony Cruz team and features Blazing Speed, successful in 2014 and 2016.
“We mustn’t forget Tony’s two,” Moore said. “Blazing Speed’s getting long in the tooth but he keeps running his races, he doesn’t know how to give up, and Gold Mount is a dark horse, he’ll stay all day, like he did when he won at Royal Ascot.
“I think we’ll be looking at a very tight finish on Sunday,” he concluded.
Werther lands a stylish win in the 2016 APQEII Cup.
Werther (yellow silks) finishes a close third in last year��s Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup.