Top high stakes trainer John Moore swept the boards again at the annual Champion Awards with Werther giving his yard a fourth successive Horse Of the Year title.
Awards for the outstanding human performers will be presented after racing at Sha Tin’s season finale on Sunday, but it was all about the equine stars at the glittering Grand Hyatt function.
The 2016 Derby and QE II Cup winner, Werther won just over HK$29 million in prizemoney for the season, ascended to the top handful of horses in the world classifications and joins Military Attack, Designs On Rome and Able Friend as Moore-trained winners of the season’s most prestigious title.
The four-year-old was also named Champion Middle Distance horse and the season’s Most Popular Horse.
Moore’s streak still falls short of Ivan Allan’s record of preparing six consecutive Horse Of The Year winners from 1996 to 2001 but the team he is assembling for next campaign should give him at least a fair shot at a fifth.
“Werther came to me as an ugly duckling but what a star he has turned out to be and tonight I expected him to win this award - top horses can come from anywhere,” Moore said.
“Ivan holds the record but I think the arsenal I am putting together for next season gives us a great chance of a fifth Horse Of The Year in 2017. Able Friend comes back in August to Hong Kong, he won’t race in Australia, and I expect Werther to continue and we have others coming through - maybe by the time I retire we will have equalled or beaten Ivan’s record.”
Most awards went to the script but, as the Champion Miler, Sun Jewellery became only the second horse this century to win one of the “major” classifications – Miler, Sprinter, Middle Distance or Stayer – without winning an open age Group One event.
Industrial Pioneer won the Middle Distance category in 2001 on the strength of a Group Three Centenary Vase and a Hong Kong Derby win against his own age, and Sun Jewellery edged out the Stewards’ Cup winner Giant Treasure by winning restricted four-year-old Group Ones, the Classic Mile and Classic Cup.
It isn’t the first time the Miler category has raised eyebrows in recent years – two seasons ago, Gold-Fun was named the Champion Miler despite his lone Group One victory coming at 1,400m that campaign and the fact that both Glorious Days and Blazing Speed had won open Group One 1,600m races.
Incumbent Champion Sprinter, Aerovelocity did win a Group One during a campaign riddled with health issues, beating Peniaphobia in the Centenary Sprint Cup, but was edged out for the season’s top award by Peniaphobia’s win in the Hong Kong Sprint.
The Champions & Chater Cup winner each year is usually guaranteed the Champion Stayer prize but Blazing Speed missed out two seasons ago as Dominant had won the Hong Kong Vase that term. He made amends with his first Champion Award, named top stayer this time after winning his second Champions & Chater in May.
John Size missed out on the Most Improved Award – one he has won eight times in 15 seasons – as that went to Chris So Wai-yin-trained Fabulous One but the champion trainer-in-waiting did claim Champion Griffin with Mr Stunning.