Champion jockey Hugh Bowman insists he won’t be complicating things tactically as favourite Werther faces a slow tempo in Sunday’s Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup at Sha Tin.
Werther already has Horse of the Year honours in the bag after consecutive Group One wins, including an empathic last-start display in the Audemars Piguet QE II Cup (2,000m), but a step up to 2,400 metres, although not unfamiliar to the John Moore-trained star, presents a challenge.
Sprint, walk and then sprint again is a common race pattern in Sha Tin staying features – one that has brought the chances of a number of champions undone in the traditional final Group One of the season. Viva Pataca, Elegant Fashion, Ambitious Dragon and this year’s runner, Designs On Rome, are just four of the superstars to go under in slowly run editions.
With the strong possibility of a similar pace scenario, getting the John Moore-trained star to settle when the pace inevitably slackens in the back straight could be Werther’s weakness, but Bowman plans on keeping it simple and banking on the four-year-old’s class to prevail.
“I would like a genuinely run race, but of course the opposite can happen tactically in Hong Kong races – a rush early and then a stack-up – and that’s what I don’t want,” Bowman said.
His wishes were made far less likely earlier this week when last year’s winner and nominal leader, Helene Super Star, was withdrawn with lameness, leaving a field of just eight horses and no noted front runners.
It’s one thing to do what looks a simple map and another thing entirely to do anything about it, so after some masterful rides on Werther at his last two starts, what can Bowman do on Sunday?
“Werther is a class horse and he has a lot of ratings points in his favour, so I won’t be going out there trying to reinvent the wheel tactics-wise,” the 35-year-old said.
“Going to a mile-and-a-half, the priority is getting him to settle, and I don’t care where I am in the run. I might be third or even outside the leader and I don’t care if I am last, just as long as he relaxes and switches off.
“If he does he will be obviously very hard to beat. After what he showed me in the QE II, I’m confident that if it is slowly run and a sprint home, then he can outsprint them anyway.”
Even though Werther had showed a tendency to travel strongly in the four-year-old classics, Bowman said this was exacerbated not only by the shorter races, but by the fact he was locked in something of a mano a mano tactical duel with jockey Ryan Moore on Sun Jewellery – the winner of the first two legs before Werther turned the tables in the Derby.
“I was riding my horse tactically, I had to be aware of Sun Jewellery and I don’t think I got the best out of riding him that way. In the QE II, when he got that strong pace and he really switched off he was electric, which I suspected might happen,” he said.
In Werther’s favour as he steps up in trip is a record of two Group Two wins and two Group One seconds from four starts in races beyond 2,000m in Australia and New Zealand.
And the son of Tavistock is clearly a horse transformed since then, progressing to the point where his QE II demolition was rated the equal third best performance on a racetrack anywhere in the world this year.
Bowman, who is licensed to ride in Japan until the end of this month but has returned to his homeland to compete in Brisbane on Saturday, now finds himself in the privileged position of being regular rider of not only Werther, but the horse ranked second in the world – the latest Australian wonder mare, Winx.
So who’s better? Getting Bowman to compare the two horses isn’t quite akin to asking him which of his daughters is his favourite but he was notably diplomatic when pressed.
“Winx is very special but Werther has really progressed in Hong Kong,” he said. “It’s pretty humbling and a lovely position for me to be in. I have been lucky that these horses have reached the level they have reached.”