He shapes to get a proper test of his readiness three weeks out from the grand final, but former Horse of the Year Werther should throw down his international day cards in the Group Two BOCHK Jockey Club Cup on Sunday.
The John Moore-trained Werther (Tommy Berry) is having just his second start of the season and his effort behind stablemate Beauty Generation in the Sha Tin Trophy over 1,600m first-up was excellent. The winner got control of a slow lead and Werther, under a big weight and with the pace against him, made good ground in the final 400m to finish sixth.
As the winner of multiple Group Ones, Werther is better suited than most by the switch from handicaps to the set weights and allowance conditions of this race but the result will rest on whether he doesn’t just need one more race.
Werther steps up to 2,000m second-up but has never been one to need a lot of racing to make him competitively fit. Last season, for instance, we saw him overcome some serious difficulties in the straight to win the Gold Cup over the same distance second-up.
The difference on Sunday could be in the tempo.
That Gold Cup was run at a pace that would make a Class Four stayer blush, so it was not really a severe test of fitness for Werther and his quality won out.
He will face a sterner test from his major rival, the Tony Cruz-trained Time Warp (Joao Moreira). He is a regular leader in his races at a solid tempo, who kept going strongly even when Harbour Master surprisingly took him on in front last start.
Harbour Master is there in the field again, so he may again pressure Time Warp to ensure a very serious test but it looks a truly run race even if Time Warp gets to do whatever he likes.
Werther will get a nice trip behind the speed in the run and is fully capable of handling the five-pound weight difference between himself and Time Warp, it’s just whether he feels the pinch chasing him down at an early stage of his campaign and with the big prize still 21 days away.
For his part, Time Warp is very fit and has been a revelation since the latter part of last season, after taking quite some racing to acclimatise.
A Group One winner in France as a two-year-old, his performance in the Ladies’ Purse was exceptional, considering the work he had to do in front, and he looks the danger to Werther.
If Time Warp is taken on in front and the pace is really hot, that could bring Secret Weapon (Nash Rawiller) into play as a knockout chance.