Werther enhanced his status as Hong Kong’s 10-furlong standout with a battling victory in the Group 2 BOCHK Jockey Club Cup (2000m) at Sha Tin Racecourse on Sunday afternoon.
Next month’s HK$25 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (10 December) at the course and distance is all that stands between the six-year-old and a career sweep of Hong Kong’s premier 2000m contests. Werther has already sealed wins in the BMW Hong Kong Derby, AP QEII Cup and Hong Kong Gold Cup, and this afternoon’s triumph was just the lead-up to Hong Kong’s richest race connections had been hoping for.
“He’s exactly where we want him to be, there are exciting times ahead,” said winning jockey Tommy Berry.
Werther and Tommy Berry, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Werther had to call on his champion’s grit in the closing stages to outpoint runner-up Time Warp by a neck. The New Zealand-bred was blowing hard when he came back to the winner’s arch, but emphasised his wellbeing with a brash kick at the air as he made his exit.
“That was a cracking good run considering it was his second run this season,” said trainer John Moore, who was registering a fifth success in the race. “His fitness was really tested and he will improve for this run.
“The speed that Harbour Master went up front today really tested his fitness level, which wasn’t 100 percent. We got away with it and now we go to the Hong Kong Cup. He’ll come away from this race in better fettle for that grand final.”
Werther settled fourth, nine lengths behind his bounding stablemate Harbour Master, and had to work to make ground into the final turn. Time Warp, positioned second under Joao Moreira, kicked past the fading leader with 400m to race, as Berry got tough in pursuit on the former Horse of the Year.
The Tavistock gelding responded to Berry’s drive, and, despite Time Warp rolling out towards Werther in the run to the line, the white-blazed bay maintained a determined locomotion to earn the spoils in a time of 2m 01.52s.
“He’s not fully fit and he’s beaten them all there carrying a five-pound penalty, so that gives us confidence for three weeks’ time,” Moore said.
Intermittent rainfall over the weekend meant that there was a slight cushion in the Sha Tin turf and Berry believed that was beneficial to the horse, whose best ever performance remains a wet track victory in the 2016 G1 AP QEII Cup (2000m).
“He’s really come on since his first run when we thought he’d a finish a bit closer than he did, and I think the cut in the track today really suited him,” Berry said.
“I said before today that he’ll be spot on for December and I think that showed. He just ran out of gas a bit the last 100 metres and Joao took me off my course a little bit where he lost his balance. All in all he’s going great and I’m looking forward to December with him.
“There’s probably another 10 percent to come, but even with the race being run the way it was, it sort of made us make up a fair bit before the corner, which probably took a bit of dash out of him as well,” Berry continued.
“In a normally-run race, he probably would have been able to sit a little bit longer and would have shown a better turn-of-foot. Three or four things went against him today and he still got the job done. The two main reasons why he didn't pull away from them was that he was running out of condition and he was taken off his course a bit.”
Moreira was pleased with second-placed Time Warp.
“It was a lovely run,” the champion jockey said. “The leader just went a bit too fast, so I was happy to sit behind him. And when I went past, I was left in front for quite some time. I was beaten in the last 100 metres. I was beaten by a good horse, and I was very pleased with my horse’s run.”
Time Warp finished second in the G3 Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse Handicap (1800m) at his last start. Nassa, the horse that pipped him that time, ran third, a further length and a half back.
“I had a lovely run, it was a hot speed but I followed Time Warp everywhere,” jockey Chad Schofield said of the Tony Millard-trained galloper. “Werther whipped around very quickly and put himself into the race a long way out, I got my run at the top of the straight and my bloke was brave.”
The Tony Cruz-trained Gold Mount ran on strongly from deep for fourth, having been checked at the turn into the stretch. The 2016 Royal Ascot winner clocked a race-fastest closing 400m of 22.62s.
Werther, returned at odds of 2.2, became the first favourite to win the race since Viva Pataca scored as a 1.3 chance in November, 2008.
Selected runners for all four of the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races – the HK$25 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m), the HK$23 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile (1600m), the HK$18.5 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) and the HK$18 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m) – will be announced on Wednesday, 22 November.
Werther and Berry have the better of Time Warp and Joao Moreira, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club