If Joao Moreira has a “bogey horse” in Hong Kong it is Werther, and the reigning Horse of the Year is the rival the champion jockey fears most as he attempts to win one of the few features not on his resume, the Group One Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup.
The Brazilian rides Eagle Way on Sunday at Sha Tin in the final Group One of the season and he believes stablemate Werther, one of five John Moore-trained runners in the race, is the horse to beat.
Moreira rode Werther in trackwork and trials after the import arrived with Moore but was overlooked for the ride on the then four-year-old as Moore looked to Australian fly-in specialist Hugh Bowman.
The rest, as they say, is history, as Werther won first-up for Bowman on international day in 2015, the jockey staying on for wins in the BMW Hong Kong Derby, Audemars Piguet QEII Cup and Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup earlier this year.
Meanwhile, Moreira has basically won everything else, completing the full set of international day features and adding his holy grail, the Derby, to his over-flowing trophy cabinet earlier this season.
The Champions & Chater, however, has so far eluded him during his extraordinary three-and-a-half-year reign of record-breaking and again it is Werther standing in his way.
“I think he is the horse to beat,” Moreira said of Werther, while providing one crucial caveat. “Particularly if there is more rain, I’m hoping the going isn’t like the last two race meetings, because if it is I think Werther will have too much of an advantage.
“If the track was good to yielding or yielding he would be just too hard to beat. I’d like it if the track is a little bit firmer.”
Moreira may get his wish, with two days of warm, drying weather after Wednesday’s deluge that will have helped the summer grass on the worn-looking Sha Tin course knit.
Furthermore, rain isn’t expected to return until Monday, providing what Moreira calls “an even race” between his Eagle Way and Werther.
“Werther ran well over this distance before, he was only beaten a short-head in this race last year. It is stretching him to his distance limit, but he can still do it because he has so much class,” Moreira said. “My horse is very much a specialist over 2,400m though. It’s a good battle, one horse is being stretched to his limit and one is at his perfect distance.
“That’s why even though my horse’s form isn’t as good as Werther’s yet, I think I have a very good ride.”
Eagle Way has drawn barrier seven of seven and will probably sit last, but Moreira isn’t worried about tactics in what is usually a slow-run race.
“I don’t necessarily have to be last, but I will be probably asked to take him back and give him a chance with some cover,” he said.
“In a small field, it doesn’t matter so much if you are last anyway, because you are going to turn for home very close to the leaders. I don’t see how the race is run as being a problem. My horse is fit and I liked the way he worked on Thursday, I’m excited.”