Werther's back for the big action
Hong Kong Stewards' Cup preview
WERTHER has become a bit "quirky", as racing folk are apt to say.
The reigning Hong Kong Horse of the Year has developed a reputation for roguish antics since returning to full training last month following an injury setback.
But trainer John Moore retains confidence that Monday's Group 1 Stewards' Cup over 1,600m will see the five-year-old take a solid first step back on the road towards further big-race glory.
Last year's Group 1 AP QEII Cup (2,000m) hero - rated the fifth-best horse in the world on turf in 2016 according to the just-revealed LONGINES World's Best Racehorse Rankings - boosted his handler's confidence ahead of his season debut with a smart gallop on Wednesday morning.
And the gelding's behaviour was close to impeccable under Stewards' Cup rider Sam Clipperton.
"He galloped very, very well with Joyful Trinity," Moore said. "Werther worked the place down - Sam was excited to be on him."
The 2016 BMW Hong Kong Derby winner clocked 1min 21.8sec for 1,200m on the turf course and closed out the final 400m in 22.8sec.
"He's very clean-winded but there'll be further improvement, fitness-wise, from this race," Moore said.
"The Hong Kong Gold Cup (2,000m) next month would be the target for him but how close he is to being primed, well, it's hard to know with him. He does funny things, he's such a quirky horse."
Those foibles have included hanging out at the canter, wrestling for his head, spinning around and even dumping his rider. Moore isn't too concerned but acknowledged that his job has been tougher as a result.
"A lot of the really good ones have these quirks. Viva Pataca was a bit of a handful when he came to us and so was Collection," Moore said as he recalled two of his past champions.
"As far as I'm concerned, Werther's had an interrupted training programme because of his quirkiness. After his barrier trial last week, he's as sound as we can have him.
"His work was impressive this morning considering everything. He's going into this race underdone but he's clean-winded and can still run a big race."
Another past Derby, AP QEII Cup and Horse of the Year winner in Moore's stable is the veteran DESIGNS ON ROME. He, too, has his quirks and the seven-year-old will sport blinkers for the first time on Monday.
The Stewards' Cup has attracted 12 top-class entries that also include Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile 1-2-3-4 Beauty Only, Helene Paragon, Joyful Trinity and Contentment, as well as former Horse of the Year and 2015 Stewards' Cup winner Able Friend. - HKJC
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