Trainer John Moore has no fears that Hong Kong Derby and QE II Cup winner Werther will not give him his fourth successive Horse of the Year title after the four-year-old followed a long-standing tradition with a surprise defeat in the Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup.
In the past two decades, six other Horse of the Year award winners contested the Champions & Chater before being named for the honour and five of them were beaten in it. Should he win the title in July, Werther will have made it six of seven yesterday.
A win in the last Group One of the season would have made the prestigious end of term title a formality but his narrow defeat into third won’t stop him being honoured as Hong Kong’s best, said Moore.
“I still think Werther is the Horse of the Year – it wasn’t dependent on this race,” he said. “He’s won the Derby, he’s beaten an outstanding international field in the QE II Cup in fantastic fashion. As far as I’m concerned he’s still the Horse of the Year.”
On a day that was in many ways forgettable for Moore and jockey Hugh Bowman, who flew in to retain his partnership with Werther, the gelding lost few admirers and certainly not his rider.
“He’s come such a long way in the last few months. If he can continue that progression ... well, he’s already been named one of the best horses in the world,” Bowman said. “He just didn’t quite run out the 2,400m strongly enough today.”
The odds-on favourite going down in the Champions & Chater has become an annual event as regular and predictable as New Year’s Eve, and there was worse news for favourite punters as the odds-on chance, Amazing Kids, was also beaten in the other Group level feature.
But the afternoon was a tour de force for Tony Cruz, with a career-best five winners on the card. He snared the other feature, the Sha Tin Vase with Peniaphobia for Matthew Chadwick, and collected his fourth Champions & Chater in a row, his second with Blazing Speed.
The seven-year-old and his regular partner, Neil Callan, found their niche early and then fought tooth and nail to prevail in the final 100m against the might of the Moore stable, which sent out the next four placings in the big one.
“I’ve managed to come away with at least a Group One every year for the last few seasons and three of them thanks to this guy so he’s a very special horse to me,” said Callan.