Werther signals HK Cup hope
Horse of the Year's status as 2,000m kingpin gets a big boost with Group 2 Jockey Club Cup victory
In battling his way to win the Group 2 BOCHK Jockey Club Cup over 2,000m at Sha Tin Racecourse on Sunday, Werther has enhanced his status as Hong Kong's kingpin over the distance.
The HK$25 million (S$4.3 million) Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup on Dec 10 over the course and distance is all that stands between the six-year-old and a career sweep of Hong Kong's premier 2,000m contests.
Werther has already sealed wins in the BMW Hong Kong Derby, AP QEII Cup and Hong Kong Gold Cup, and Sunday 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 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 per cent.
"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 go, 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 2min 01.52sec.
"He's not fully fit and he's beaten them all there carrying a five-pound (2.27kg) penalty, so that gives us confidence for three weeks' time," said Moore.
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 Group 1 AP QEII Cup.
"He's really come on since his first run when we thought he'd 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.
"All in all, he's going great and I'm looking forward to December with him." - HKJC