Werther’s dominant last start win looked a lot like the birth of Hong Kong racing’s next superstar, but three battle-hardened veterans still stand in the way of the “new kid on the block” in Sunday’s Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup at Sha Tin.
At a combined 21 years of age and 13 Group One wins Military Attack, Blazing Speed and Designs On Rome have continued to defy injury and age this season.
The trio also boast 100 lifetime starts between them compared with Werther’s 18.
Left in Werther’s wake in the Group One Audemars Piguet QE II Cup last month were Military Attack and Blazing Speed, the pair unwanted in betting but still surprisingly filling placings, while the winner’s stablemate Designs On Rome plugged home bravely for fifth in unsuitable race-day conditions.
With the QE II and Hong Kong Derby already on his résumé, Werther has horse of the year wrapped up and will likely start dominant favourite in Sunday’s HK$10 million staying feature, but not only are connections of the three older horses hopeful of big efforts in the final Group One of the season – their comments suggest that the sunset of their horses’ careers may not be as close as it seems.
“Werther deserves to be favourite on what he did, he is the new kid on the block and while he is going to be hard to beat, these three older horses have proven they can win at this level over this distance,” said jockey Neil Callan, who returns from suspension to ride Blazing Speed, a horse the Irishman has been aboard in two of three career Group One wins, including the 2014 Champions & Chater Cup.
Even though the Tony Cruz-trained iron horse hasn’t won since last year’s QE II, and in seven starts this term, there was a close second to Military Attack at Group Two level in November and has ran competitively at 2,000m as the gelding becomes more dour with age.
“He still has a big race win left in him, don’t worry about that, I had a look at him this morning and he looks magnificent – he looks tight and looks fit,” Callan said. “As he gets older, 2,400m is actually starting to look like he might be his pet distance. I think he can win, for a horse that hasn’t won this season his form has been quite strong.”
Military Attack made a mockery of his 70-1 quote in the QE II to chase hard for second with new jockey Nash Rawiller aboard and now steps up to 2,400m for the first time in a career that has included horse of the year honours in 2012-13.
“Werther was something else last start – it was like, ‘where did that come from?’ – and maybe it looks like we are all racing for second,” trainer Caspar Fownes said. “My horse is fit and well and he will run a decent race, the distance won’t be a problem and if this rain sticks around it will help him as well.”
Fownes has made no secret that his eight-year-old’s various leg and hoof issues have long made Military Attack a high-maintenance horse at home, but the ever-confident handler is still planning a “last hurrah” tilt at December’s Hong Kong Cup.
“Obviously he has a lot of problems, but maybe with an off-season of treatment and rest, I think we can get him back for one more campaign,” Fownes said.
Designs On Rome might be the baby of the group at just six, but entered the season off a long break having missed this race 12 months ago to undergo arthroscopic surgery on both front fetlocks.
The former horse of the year recaptured his best with a stirring win in February’s Group One Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup. Of course Designs On Rome’s trainer John Moore isn’t necessarily hoping for an upset – he saddles up half of the eight-horse field, including Werther – but is still bullish.
“Designs On Rome hasn’t really put a foot wrong since that surgery, it just takes a little while to hit top form after a procedure like that,” Moore said.