An early season mishap might prove the winning edge to give the John Moore-trained Werther back-to-back wins in the HK$20 million Audemars Piguet QE II Cup at Sha Tin on Sunday.
In most seasons, a horse like Werther (Hugh Bowman) would already have had at least five starts in a campaign stretching back to a first-up start in October and Moore’s job at this stage would be a balancing act to keep the horse fit but not jaded.
In fact, Werther would likely have had six starts, including an overseas trip, as it was the interrupted preparation that convinced his owner to miss travelling to the Dubai Turf in March.
But instead of being deep into a six-month preparation that would have already seen him involved in a tough international race in December and a trip overseas for another tough race in March, Werther lines up this afternoon with fresh legs.
None of the three starts he has had will have bottomed him. The Stewards’ Cup first-up in January was a standard race, his spectacular-looking win in the Gold Cup came in what was a slow, very low pressure race and being held up for room in the straight over 1,600m again last start also ensured that Werther finished the race with reserve energy.
Perhaps for some horses, that might even amount to being underprepared, but Werther has shown that he thrives on a light racing programme and his demolition job in this race 12 months ago was only his fifth run of that preparation.
Everything points to him being still on the rise, which is a positive as he takes on a serious opponent in Neorealism (Joao Moreira).
We’ve seen Neorealism before, when he looked fairly one-paced in December in the Hong Kong Mile, but at 2,000m or thereabouts, he looks better suited and will get all the favours here, most likely in the lead and dictating the speed.
Perhaps the race will come down to how much control rivals are willing to give Moreira and for how long, and at what point the others decide they want to go up and test him.
Had Werther drawn outside, even in the small field it might have been important because he might have had to surrender a length early to get in.
But, from gate two – effectively gate one as he has only the slow beginner Designs On Rome on his inside – Werther won’t have to be used much to sit close enough to outrun Neorealism when it gets serious.
That pair looks to have an edge on the remainder, with Pakistan Star (Silvestre de Sousa), stepping up from the Derby against his own age to an open race, possibly the one chasing them home but the minor spot looks very well contested.