John Moore may not get the wet weather he wants for Werther in Sunday’s Audemars Piguet QE II Cup but the trainer suggested the reigning Horse of the Year is in better shape than when he won the race last year.
Werther smashed his rivals by four-and-a-half lengths in the 2016 edition, on a rain-affected track that probably aided the New Zealand-bred gelding.
While rain on Monday and Tuesday has softened the track at Sha Tin and showers may continue until Thursday, the Hong Kong Observatory is forecasting the weather to clear by the weekend.
“We would have loved a bit of juice in the ground for him. We saw how he revelled in those conditions last year. He likes to get his toe in the ground,” Moore said.
“Still, even if we don’t get any more rain, the club always grows the grass a little longer for these big races so there will be some extra cushion. I’m very confident he can run a big race.”
Ironically enough it is an early season setback that saw Werther spend two months out of training and skip December’s internationals that Moore says has turned into a positive heading into Sunday’s HK$20 million feature.
Unlike last year, when Werther came into the QEII after three close-fought clashes in the four-year-old series, the horse has had one less run.
“He is the freshest horse there. He has that on his side this time, missing that early part of the season with an injury,” Moore said.
Moore had also planned to take Werther to Dubai in March but owner Johnson Chen had a change of heart, leaving Werther to run a creditable fourth in the Group Two Chairman’s Trophy last start.
“Leading into this he has done everything right,” Moore said. “We wanted to go to Dubai, but once the owner pulled the pin we could set a programme for him here and it has mapped out well. The programme set itself, it’s there in black and white.”
A small field and no obvious leaders mean tactics will be crucial and even though it would seem key Japanese rival Neorealism had an edge with his ability to lead or lay-up close to the pace, Moore said jockey Hugh Bowman has options on Werther as well.
“Werther is versatile. He can be right behind the speed, but if they clap the pace on he can sit back and by the time they get to the corner he is right on their tails.”
Viva Pataca gave Moore two of his five QE II wins in non-consecutive years (2007 and 2010) and Werther would join Japan’s Eishin Preston (2002-03) as the only other back-to-back winner.
Another Group One win would also put Werther in the frame for consecutive horse of the year honours after victory in the Group One Citi Hong Kong Cup two starts back and a likely run in the Group One Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup still to come.
Moore also saddles up 2014 QE II winner Designs On Rome, a horse looking to find form after five unplaced runs.
“He will run well, but a rising eight-year-old with the type of leg issues he has got, his best days are probably behind him. If he did win it would be a surprise,” Moore said.
“He has an engine and an incredible will to win so it’s hard to completely rule him out of anything.”
Meanwhile, numbers for next weekend’s international Group Ones were dealt a further blow when French sprinter Signs Of Blessing was withdrawn from the Group One Chairman’s Sprint Prize.