There is a question over whether he is completely wound up yet, but looking for the winner of the Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup 2,000m on Sunday at Sha Tin it’s hard not to land on John Moore’s Horse of the Year Werther by default.
Last year’s Derby and QE II Cup winner has raced only once this season, when he finished sixth to Helene Paragon in the Stewards’ Cup and was neither impressive or disappointing.
The key to this event is just how much Werther (Hugh Bowman) has taken from that run as everything else points to him being the winner.
There are factors which seem to eliminate, or at least work against, his major rivals in a race where he doesn’t have many anyway.
Beauty Only (Zac Purton) is very fit and racing well but he will give Werther some kind of a head start in running and he is a doubt at running a strong 2,000m.
Werther’s stablemate Designs On Rome (Tommy Berry) is not the horse he was, despite his win in the Sha Tin Trophy first-up, and while Moore seems positive about his chances, he too will give away a good start. It was difficult to gauge the worth of his new blinkers in the Stewards’ Cup as he was outpaced over the mile anyway but they didn’t seem to improve his ability to keep in touch.
Secret Weapon (Nash Rawiller) was ordinary in the Stewards’ Cup at 1,600m but returns to the trip where he was the best of the Hong Kong horses in a brutally run Hong Kong Cup in December. He just won’t get that same tempo here, though, even if Basic Trilogy rolls them along evenly.
And Blazing Speed, who probably gets the sort of race pan he likes, is another who looks less than the horse he was last season now that he has turned eight years of age.
So all arrows point back to Werther, despite him having his own negative that he may still be a run off his top. He gets the right run ahead of his rivals, he can run out a strong 2,000m and he is good enough.
His run in the Stewards’ Cup was a pass mark but not good enough to win here, so he needs to improve. But what seems in his favour as far as fitness goes is that Werther has never needed a lot of racing to perform – he won his first run in Hong Kong then performed well again despite a decent gap to his second run.
At his best, he’d win comfortably, but Sunday’s Gold Cup answers the question of whether he is anywhere near that best level.