WERTHER will attempt to give trainer John Moore a rare hat-trick in Sunday’s (February 25th) Group 1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup, but the handler is wary of a reformed rival back from the wilderness.
“I’d be worried about Pakistan Star,” Moore said, recounting the Tony Cruz-trained galloper’s brilliant barrier trial of a week ago. “Tommy (Berry) said the way Pakistan Star went past him was impressive; he straight away said we’ve got that horse to beat on the big day. That horse is fresh and on the trial alone he’s going to be tough to beat.”
Moore is ploughing through a difficult season with only 15 wins on the board from 291 starters, but should Werther win a second consecutive Gold Cup at the weekend the bay would become the stable’s third back-to-back victor in a row following Military Attack (2013 and 2014) and Designs On Rome (2015 and 2016). The handler has won nine of the last 12 renewals all told.
Werther heads into the second leg of Hong Kong’s Triple Crown series off a fine run in the first – a close third-place finish behind Seasons Bloom over the Stewards’ Cup’s shorter-than-optimum mile.
“He probably would have won had he drawn a gate,” Moore opined. “Having to do what he had to do in the race from a wide draw, it cost him. He did still fight to the line though.”
Werther started this season as Hong Kong’s de facto champion, a three-time Group 1 winner, Derby hero, past Horse of the Year – the been-there-done-it stalwart. But a swell of younger talents have arisen to challenge that status this term: Time Warp has led the charge so far – literally. The Cruz-trained chestnut showed Werther his heels in December’s G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m), claiming a make-all success with Moore’s galloper chasing in second.
“We can't give Time Warp a start again – not if he runs the same sectionals as he did last time – so we need to draw a gate,” Moore said. “We’ve got to be there, right on the speed, tracking him all the way. If we have the same scenario, making up six lengths, we’re not going to pull him back.”
Time Warp and Pakistan star aside, Moore is pleased with Werther’s preparation since last month’s Stewards’ Cup and reported that the Tavistock gelding worked well this morning.
“He went out on the dirt track and his work was good,” he said. “I didn't want to put him on the turf, it was just a bit firm the other day and I didn't want to chance it.
“He’s done nothing wrong, he’s going in very fit and he finished off that last race really well, so if he gets the gun run he’ll be there fighting it out at the finish.”
Stable rider Berry has been partnering Werther in his fast work and barrier trials in recent months but will hand the reins to big-race pilot Hugh Bowman on Sunday.
The HK$10 million feature has also attracted Stewards’ Cup hero Seasons Bloom, the Moore-trained Eagle Way and Helene Charisma, Gold Mount from the Cruz stable, the Dennis Yip-trained Secret Weapon and recent G3 winner Dinozzo from the John Size yard.