Hong Kong's reigning Horse of the Year Werther maintained his perfect record over the Sha Tin 2000m with a gutsy win in Sunday's Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup as trainer John Moore confirmed plans to tackle the US$6 million Dubai Turf (1800m) on March 25 with the five-year-old.
Moore landed his fifth consecutive Gold Cup and a record 12th overall as even-money favourite Werther overcame a chequered season and significant trouble on the home turn under Hugh Bowman to wear down Tony Cruz's evergreen galloper Blazing Speed by a short head. Dennis Yip-trained Secret Weapon finished third, three-quarters of a length from the winner. The winner stopped the clock in 2m 03.78s, but clocked a swift final sectional of 22.10s.
“It's a special win for the stable and for the staff,” said Moore, who trained four winners on the 10-race card, including both G1s, with the handler also preparing the first three across the line in the Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m) with Helene Paragon, Able Friend and Joyful Trinity. “These big days are what we target, and so to have a result like this is a thrill.”
It was Werther's third win from three attempts at the course and distance, having won the BMW Hong Kong Derby in March before an imperious effort to take the G1 Audemars Piguet QEII Cup in April. The Tavistock gelding had missed the early part of this season with a right hind suspensory injury, only returning to the races for January's G1 Stewards' Cup (1600m), but according to Moore, his tenacious win in Sunday's feature shows that he is right back on track now.
“I always thought he'd come back to his best, I was more worried about his quirkiness than his injury,” he said. “Winning the QEII like he did, it put him top five in the planet on turf, so we know that we've got a very special horse, but it took something else for him to win today. At about the 500m, the horses have improved on his outside very quickly, and he got put back on the heels of Blazing Speed, it nearly cost him the race. But he does stay 2000m strongly, as we know, he picked himself up and still hit the line strongly. So it was a gutsy effort!
“I'm ecstatic that we got away with it today, and had he not been interfered with, he probably would have won by a length or so, but that's racing and I'm now looking forward to Dubai with him. Hopefully he doesn't do anything silly beforehand, though, because he is a bit quirky.”
Bowman said that he had been mindful of the horse's fitness when plotting a path through the field.
“I was confident that I had the horse underneath me, but when Neil Callan (on Blazing Speed) went in behind Basic Trilogy at about the 1400m I raced without cover for most of the race,” the Australian rider said. “Just being second-up over 2000m, I felt I was on the best horse in the race but the other horses I felt had an obvious fitness advantage. And that's why I was inclined to wait as long as I could, and obviously the pressure built and built quickly and that's when I found myself in a bit of a precarious position at the home turn.
“But good horses can overcome a little bit of trouble, and he certainly knows where the winning post is! He's been a great horse for me and a great horse for Hong Kong.”
In addition to Werther's Dubai Turf plans, Moore is also preparing Not Listenin'tome for the G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen (1200m) on dirt for the rich meeting at Meydan. He believes that he heads to the Middle East with a strong hand – a view backed up by Bowman, who believes Werther can become the first Hong Kong horse to win the 1800m feature.
“I don't get too carried away with international ratings because it's hard to assess, but I don't think there's any doubt he's in the top 10 horses in the world on turf, this horse,” he said. “To beat a genuine Group 1 field here in the manner that he did, and to suggest he can only improve with it fitness-wise, if he goes to Dubai he'd have to be a legitimate chance, regardless of the field – as long as he travels over well and settles in.”
Yip is also considering a Dubai campaign for third-placed Secret Weapon, although he says that April's QEII Cup is the horse's main aim.
“We still have to decide about Dubai, it's a possibility,” he said. “He's seven years old now, so I need to look at whether we have enough time for him to go to Dubai and then come back for the QEII. I'll check the horse, see what the timeframe looks like and then do what's best for him.”
The news wasn't all rosy for Moore, though, with his two-time Hong Kong Gold Cup winner Designs On Rome finishing at the rear under Tommy Berry.
“I think he's feeling his joints on these firm tracks and so he just isn't letting down,” said the trainer. “He'll progress through the usual QEII, Champions & Chater path but then we might have to look at where he is at.
“He was exciting for a furlong there coming to the corner, he showed that devastating turn of foot and I thought he was going to be right in it,” Berry added. “But he's not finishing off as well as he used to and I think he's come to the end of it.”
Moore's other winners on the card came with sprinter Magic Legend (133lb), who remained unbeaten from two starts in Hong Kong with a facile three and a half length win in the Class 3 Citi Global Banking Handicap (1000m), and Lotus Strikes Back (119lb) in the Class 3 Citi Mortgage Services Handicap (2000m).
The card ended with a glimpse into the future as Cruz-trained Gold Mount entered Derby calculations when he manouevered his way to victory in the Class 2 Citi Insurance Services Handicap (1600m) under Gerald Mosse. The Pan Sutong-owned four-year-old, formerly raced as Primitivo, won the King George V Handicap at Royal Ascot when trained by Alan King.
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