Australian authorities have launched an inquiry into Lawrence Ho’s involvement with Crown Resorts.
Macau’s ‘King of Gambling’, the 97-year-old Macau casino mogul Stanley Ho Hung-sun, could be forced to give up a small slice of his incredible empire after being sued by his nephew.
Douglas Whyte is an iconic figure in Hong Kong racing, a competitor of supreme focus whose abilities and mastery of the circuit yielded 13 consecutive champion jockey titles up to 2013.
The South African’s successes down the years make him the all-time top earner in the jockeys’ room, his mounts having banked an ice-cool HK$1.5 billion in stakes money. Already far and away the Hong Kong jockey with the most career wins to his name, on Sunday (28 October) at Happy Valley Whyte will aim to pass another milestone.
This past Wednesday at the city track, the man they call “The Durban Demon” crouched low over the David Ferraris-trained Electric Lightning and drove through the line to take his Hong Kong win tally to 1,799. Rounding up is the goal this weekend.
“I’ve got some awkward draws, and I’ll need a bit of luck to go my way, but let’s hope I can do it on Sunday,” Whyte said at Sha Tin on Friday morning.
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The 46-year-old has come through some lean spells in recent seasons, and retirement rumours intermittently do the rounds, but he currently sits fifth in the premiership with eight wins on the board. And with his all-time tally more than 900 clear of nearest pursuer Zac Purton, he admitted that this latest landmark had not blinked on his radar until recently.
“Up until a couple of weeks ago, when someone said I only had four or five to go, I thought I was still quite a way off,” he said. “Going into races I’m not conscious of it, really – of course, I’m aware of it because everyone talks about it and it’s a lovely figure to get to but it’s not something I’m focussing all of my attention on.
“It certainly will be a good goal to achieve.”
Whyte has a book of seven rides on the 10-race card. One of those is the John Moore-trained Storm Signal in the Class 3 Ma Wan Handicap (1000m), a last start winner at the course and distance for the former champion.
“It’s difficult because he’s gone up (eight points) in the handicap and the draw (11) has done us no favours, but the horse himself seems to be in similar order and he won with a bit of authority last time,” he said.
“A lot will depend on luck and how he breaks. He’s carrying 133lb now so if I had to ride him in a similar fashion as last time – on the lead – it might tell in the end. Hopefully the speed is on so I can get in and get a good cart into the race and then I think he can give a good account of himself.”
Teetan hot on the heels of Purton
Karis Teetan was in charismatic form when landing a double at the Valley on Wednesday, saluting the cameras as he approached the line on the Class 5 winner Trendiful.
The Mauritian is three wins behind Purton at this early stage of the title race and will look to make inroads with the champion one of five riders on the suspended list. He partners the game Gunnison (128lb) in the last, the Class 2 Chai Wan Kok Handicap (1200m).
John Size’s diminutive chestnut, a G2 winner in Australia as a juvenile, ran on to fourth place over 1000m at the track two and a half weeks ago. That was the four-year-old’s first start this term.
“I think it was a good run – the 1000 metres was a little bit short for him. He came out of a good draw and couldn’t keep a better position so he flew home pretty late,” Teetan said.
And the jockey believes the step up to 1200m is favourable.
“He’s done better over that distance before and I think he’s going the right way,” he said.
“He gives you a good feel when you ride him – he’s very small but he’s got a beautiful action on him. I think he’s the type of horse that took a little bit of time to adapt but this season he’s stronger and mentally he’s got better and I’m really looking forward to riding him.”
Gunnison will face 12 rivals including the Danny Shum-trained Super Hoppy (123lb), winner of his last three starts and the mount of 5lb apprentice Dylan Mo.
In the afternoon’s other Class 2, the Kap Shui Mun Handicap (1650m), Umberto Rispoli is set to take the reins on Circuit Glory, a welcome ride for the powerful Tony Cruz stable.
“It helps when I can ride for a trainer like Tony – every race meeting he’s having two or three winners and I really appreciate this chance he’s giving me,” said Rispoli, who has just two wins so far this campaign.
“Circuit Glory has deserved a good draw and he has it (gate 2),” the Italian said. “His last win was quite good and once he hit the front it looked like he stopped a little bit so he might still have something in the tank. The priority is this horse needs a good pace on.”
Sunday’s fixture is the only Happy Valley day meeting this season and the action starts at 12.45pm with the Class 5 Yau Kom Tau Handicap (2200m).
Vincent Ho stole the show at Sha Tin (Saturday, 13 October) with a thrilling four timer while champion jockey Zac Purton had to settle for just one winner and a string of strongly fancied chances who failed to come up to scratch.
The ultra-consistent Victory Boys ensured Purton didn’t go home winless with a stylish reappearance success in the Class 2 Tsuen Fu Handicap, but local talent Ho outshone him with four dynamic wins which took him to eleven winners for the season and cemented his position as clear third in the jockeys’ table.
Ho set the ball rolling with a dramatic last-to-first surge aboard Francis Lui’s Glittering Armour in Race 3 and doubled up for the same handler in Race 5 when Fortunate Runner forged clear in the Chinese General Chamber Of Commerce Cup.
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The popular 28-year-old gave Me Tsui’s Go Public a superb ride to bring up his treble in the Class 3 Yan Chai Trophy Handicap, gradually building momentum with a combination of force and finesse to lead in the final strides, while even better was to follow when stablemate Ugly Warrior took his career record to five wins from six AWT runs with a commanding success in the Tsuen Lok Handicap.
Tsui described the winning rider as “on fire” as he sealed the first fourfold of his career, while Ho feels a combination of hard work and a summer trip to the UK based with leading Yorkshire trainer Mark Johnston are yielding their rewards this term.
“I try to work hard in every aspect of my job 24 hours a day in relation to diet, training, recovery and physio and I’m so pleased that the support and results have come my way so far this season,” he said.
“Ryan Moore gave me good advice about riding in the UK and Mr Johnston always stressed that it is important for jockeys to use their instinct to judge what pace suits a horse.
He added: “I’m sure that I’ve come back to Hong Kong with more confidence this season and I now have to keep the hard work going to make the most of this great start.”
Ho has long held Ugly Warrior in high regard and mentioned him as one who could even graduate to dirt races at the Dubai Carnival last season.
Tsui says he “will let the horse tell us whether he is ready for that” but paid tribute to the way Ho checked inside to avoid a punishing battle for the lead and is eyeing a similar AWT contest for Ugly Warrior in early December next.
Ho would have gone very close to making it five wins from just six rides but for traffic problems aboard fourth-placed Noble Steed in Race 10.
Invincible Fresh took full advantage of the trouble in behind and survived a lengthy inquiry and an objection from connections of runner-up Lady First to give Karis Teetan a treble which leaves him just one behind Purton at the top of the jockeys’ table.
O’Sullivan breaks his duck and looks to Conghua for future success
Paul O’Sullivan was all smiles after becoming the last of Hong Kong’s 22 trainers to get off the mark for the season when Willie Way landed Race 2 to give Teetan his second winner of the day and promptly hinted at a change in policy designed to leave the blocks more quickly in future.
We retired a lot of horses last season, including good servants like Archippus, and I knew we’d start slowly this year,” he said.
“But having Conghua to prepare horses is going to be absolutely outstanding,” he added. “A facility like that gives you the opportunity to finish a horse in May then trial him in the summer and come down here ready to roll when the season starts.”
Tony Millard continued his flying start to the season and notched his tenth success from just 52 starters in Race 1 when Strathallan (121lb) saluted at the fourth attempt, showing speed throughout and battling on well for Teetan to beat promising newcomer Hainan Star (120lb) by a neck.
Millard felt Strathallan’s previous experience proved crucial and, with Nassa, Singapore Sling and South African G1 winner Northern Superstar (formerly Edict Of Nantes) waiting in the wings, he kept things short and sweet when asked about his wealth of emerging talent.
“Strathallan is a nice horse who can improve over 1200m,’ he said. “And this is the best string of young horses I’ve ever had.”
Recent Sha Tin scorer Super Star is one of those horses and Happy Tour – another son of Snitzel sourced at the HKIS in March – looked promising when making all for Danny Shum and Chad Schofield in Race 6.
Shum said: “His first run was good and he’s improved so we will stick to 1200m at Sha Tin for now.”
The Hong Kong season continues on Thursday, 18 October with an eight-race card at Happy Valley.
Karis Teetan topped the win count at Sha Tin Racecourse this afternoon, Sunday, 7 October, with a fine five-timer that included not only Pakistan Friend’s short-priced score in the Chinese Recreation Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1600m) but also a victory snagged in the stewards’ room.
The Cup success was achieved with new ally Tony Cruz but two of the Mauritian’s tally – including the stewards’ intervention – came in tandem with long-time supporter Tony Millard, who continued his fine start to the campaign with a treble.
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“These days don’t always happen but I had a good book of rides today,” Teetan said after the Frankie Lor-trained Morethanlucky sealed the quintet in the afternoon’s final race, the Class 2 Yew Handicap (1400m).
Teetan ended the day with 11 wins for the term, three behind champion Australian jockey Zac Purton, but played down talk of a title challenge.
“It’s still very early in the season; Zac is pretty good and it’s difficult to go past him,” he said. “I don’t want to say too much and get a big head but Joao (Moreira) is not here now so there are a few opportunities out there. I’m not going to think that big at this stage.”
This Pakistan’s no star yet
Teetan delivered an upbeat report about Pakistan Friend’s development after the four-year-old landed the Class 4 trophy race by three-quarters of length – the Australian-bred gelding’s second success from only four starts.
“The first time I rode him he gave me a really good feel,” Teetan said. “I knew that he could only improve mentally and he was a different horse today – he was still not focused 100 percent but he should take another step forward again. He feels like a really genuine horse.
“I believe he’ll be decent, maybe a long-distance horse. The feeling he gave me, I think he can still improve and if he can do that he can go a bit higher.”
Cruz, meanwhile, is taking the view that Pakistan Friend will likely stall on his progression some way shy of the elite grades.
The gelding might sport the Kerm Din silks made famous by the exploits of his illustrious stablemate Pakistan Star, but a star he is not – according to his handler. That assessment was delivered despite the gelding having drawn too obvious comparisons with the G1 winner after he rushed to a deep-closing win on debut late last term.
“He might make it up to Class 2 and he should go over farther in time, but for now I’ll keep him to this course and distance and see what he can do,” Cruz said after the Hong Kong International Sale graduate had stopped the clock at 1m 34.55s.
“It was a smaller field (11 runners), he got a good position behind the leader and I was always sure he would kick home against this opposition,” he said, adding, “He’s improving though, everything he does coming out of the gate is better and he’ll come on for this.”
The handler enjoyed a double when King Genki nicked race nine – his third win over 1650m on the all-weather track – under 10lb claimer Victor Wong.
Teetan kicked off his winning run in race four, eking just enough from the Caspar Fownes-trained Chaparral Star (131lb) to hold off the late run of Sports Master (130lb).
A brace followed for the Teetan/Millard alliance. The latter success took the form of a centre-track drive atop the newcomer Super Star, another local sale graduate; the first was claimed in the stewards’ room after High Five (128lb) was promoted to the top spot upon the demotion of the Derek Leung-ridden Endearing (119lb) for interference caused in the closing stages.
Freedman denied a double
Endearing’s demotion denied trainer Michael Freedman a double on the day and was the second such turnaround. Diamond Friends was awarded race two in the steward’s room after suffering interference caused by first-past-the-post Let Us Win – Umberto Rispoli and trainer Jimmy Ting were the beneficiaries that time.
Freedman, meanwhile, had already enjoyed the high of My Beginner’s Luck’s triumph in race three. Matthew Poon steered the stable’s third winner of the campaign.
“Matthew’s five-pound claim is a big advantage, especially on the on-pace horses,” Freedman said. “It was a similar scenario to when he won on Sparkling Dragon for me at Happy Valley last month. This horse gets a bit worked up beforehand and I was a bit concerned watching him go out but he has got natural speed and we were hoping he could get out and get an uncontested lead like that.”
Murray hits the mark
Callan Murray was rewarded for a patient outlook as he took the opener and snared a first win for the campaign. The young South African’s relief was expressed with a loud whoop as he passed the winning post aboard Top Ace, his 24th mount this season and the first leg of the Millard treble.
“It’s just a relief. Every winner is nice but my last winner was actually in June, since before my hip surgery, so it’s been frustrating and this will give me the confidence I needed,” Murray said.
This afternoon’s success on the Millard-trained galloper was the rider’s first in Hong Kong since he returned to his homeland in July 2017 following a late-season four-win stint.
Murray, 20, landed back in Hong Kong in August with a view to securing a long-term contract in Hong Kong. But his early season hopes took a knock when he picked up a two-meeting suspension in September.
“The suspension was the most frustrating but these things happen, I was patient enough and I think it’s made me a better person,” he said.
Premiership leader Purton took race five on the Lor-trained Witness Hunter.
Hong Kong racing will continue at Happy Valley on Wednesday, 10 October.
Hong Kong racing is five fixtures into the post-Joao Moreira era and any notion that the circuit’s jockeys might be having an easier time of things is proving to be a fallacy. The dynamics have changed but the competition is still intense.
“A lot of people were thinking that it was going to be easier with Joao leaving but I didn’t think so,” Karis Teetan said during a pause from his Monday (24 September) morning routine at Sha Tin.
One look at the jockeys’ premiership table ahead of Wednesday (26 September) night’s eight-race Happy Valley card bears testament to that. Champion Zac Purton sits on five wins, a tally matched by South African newcomer Grant Van Niekerk. On that pair’s heels, with four wins apiece, are Teetan, Derek Leung, Vincent Ho, Victor Wong and Matthew Chadwick.
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“It’s so open and all of the jockeys are working hard to get as many rides as they can, so it’s pretty hard to get lots of good rides,” Teetan observed.
Moreira left Hong Kong at the end of last season, having set records for most wins (145, 168, 170) in three consecutive title-winning seasons before running second to Purton in 2017/18.
Naturally, one thing the Brazilian’s departure has already led to is a broader spread of those “good rides.” Teetan, for one, is seeing the benefit of that outcome, notably through his developing association with Tony Cruz, the handler having stated his intention to leg-up the Mauritian lightweight on dual G1 winner Pakistan Star.
“I’m pretty happy with the way things are going, I’m trying hard to get those good rides. I’m getting some nice chances from good yards and I just need to make sure the ball keeps on rolling,” the rider said.
Teetan rolls into the midweek downtown fixture with five rides ˗ no jockey has a full book. In the finale, the Class 3 Wong Chuk Hang Handicap (1200m), he will side with Alcari (124lb), a horse he has ridden six times ˗ snaring two wins ˗ for longtime ally Ricky Yiu.
“Alcari could be my best; he’s going well. He’s a nice horse and he progessed well last season,” he said.
Teetan partnered Alcari in a 1200m dirt track barrier trial at Sha Tin five days ago. The five-year-old showed enthusiasm for the task as he galloped past the post ahead of the rest in a time of 1m 10.72s – the session’s fastest.
“His trial was very good last week,” Teetan said. “He feels fit and ready, very fresh. I’ve ridden him at the Valley before and things didn’t work out but I think the horse has improved a lot physically and mentally since then. If he can get some luck in the run he’s going to be very competitive, I think.”
Alcari ˗ drawn in gate three ˗ faces 11 rivals, including bottom-weight King Opie (114lb), a winner last start at odds of 1.8 and climbing out of Class 4 for the first time. Trainer Frankie Lor’s four-year-old succeeded in breaking his maiden at his fourth outing when scoring at Sha Tin on opening day.
“He’s up to Class 3 and it is 1200 metres again, but I think later on he will need a little bit further,” Lor said this morning.
“This time, he has the light weight and usually the races at Happy Valley are a little bit weaker than Sha Tin; he’s in good form, so that’s why we have gone for this race. His last run showed me that he had improved.”
Purton was in the plate for King Opie’s breakthrough win, but with that gelding racing off a weight well below his minimum Chad Schofield will take the reins. The Australian ace will instead be aboard the Dennis Yip-trained Starlight (127lb).
“Starlight goes well fresh so the fact that it’s his first run this season is not a problem,” Purton said. “He had one nice trial at the Valley and he’s done a fair bit of work. If he can settle midfield, he’s on a rating again now where he’s well-placed but being drawn 11 isn’t ideal.”
Starlight is rated 74, a mark off which the six-year-old wrapped up a hat-trick over the course and distance last October.
“He could win off 80, I reckon, he just needs the right gate and the right kind of run off that mark; he needs the right tempo – he’s not really a go-forward horse, so he relies on a little bit of pressure early in the race so he can get home,” Purton said.
“He’s a very consistent horse, he always gives his best and he feels like he’s in good enough shape.”
The night’s trophy race is the Class 3 Hong Kong Country Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1650m). Teetan will ride Amazing Satchmo (115lb), one of three trained by David Ferraris.
“His trial at Happy Valley was okay, the only thing is he’s quite a big horse so maybe the track could be a little bit tricky for him, but with the light weight I think he can finish off strongly,” Teetan said.
The contest also features Red Warrior (124lb), the mount of Purton, and the Schofield-ridden My Ally (133lb), both of which ran on eye-catchingly in a 1200m Class 3 at the track three weeks ago.
The evening’s action starts at 7.15pm with the Class 5 Heung Yip Handicap (1000m) in which Teetan is booked for the Cruz-trained Multimax: “He’s down all the way from Class 3 and he should be competitive in that grade,” he said.
Trainer Richard Gibson paid tribute to Hong Kong Jockey Club consultant Nick Columb after Right Honourable anchored a double for both his handler and jockey Zac Purton with victory in the Class 4 Sheung Tak Handicap (1650m) at Happy Valley tonight (Wednesday, 12 September).
Columb, a long-term racing industry heavyweight in his native Australia and on the global scene more broadly, died in Spain in early August. He worked with the Club on a number of bloodstock fronts and formed strong connections with many Hong Kong owners.
“My first thoughts after this horse passed the post tonight were for Nick,” Gibson said. “He loved Happy Valley, he loved this track, and he helped this owner (Yan Ming) to buy this horse. He’s left a big Hong Kong racing, he was only here for a short time but he made a big impact and left a major imprint. So tonight, I want to pay my respects to Nick – a big high-five to him.”
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While Right Honourable (132lb) has raced consistently without winning in Class 3 throughout his time in Hong Kong, having arrived on a rating of 73, he is now a winner of two from three in Class 4, both times demonstrating a deft turn of foot. Tonight, he swept past his rivals under Purton to record an effortless two and a half length victory.
“This horse is not a particularly big horse, barely 1000 pounds, so first-up we always knew he’d be strong tonight,” Gibson said. “He had a lovely trial 10 days ago and everything went to plan today, it was a great ride from the champion.”
Reigning champion rider Purton brought up his second win of the night aboard the Chris So-trained Eighty Eighty (121lb), victorious in the Class 3 Shun Lee Handicap (1200m). For So, who has prepared six second placegetters from the first 36 races this season, the win was a welcome change of luck.
“I normally cheer my horses home very loudly, but I stayed completely silent for this race, so maybe that’s what I need to change,” said a relieved So with a laugh. “No, the horses have been running well and I know that if they keep running well the wins will come.
“This horse is not a top-liner but he’s very honest and consistent. I hoped over the summer he might really strengthen up and, while he did improve a little bit, he wasn’t like some horses who really change. He had a perfect ride from a top jockey in Zac tonight and I think he will be a nice Class 3 horse this season.”
As for Gibson, the trainer – celebrating his 49th birthday today – also tasted success with German import Faithful Trinity (114lb), who scored his first Hong Kong triumph in the Class 3 Oi Man Handicap (1650m). The Wiener Walzer four-year-old, who won the G2 Gran Criterium (1500m) in Italy as a juvenile, had shown promise at the end of last season and the trainer believes that he can continue to progress in his third Hong Kong term.
“Faithful Trinity was always going to be nailed on for an 1800m race early in the season, especially at Happy Valley,” he said of the Matthew Chadwick-ridden galloper. “We rolled the dice by going to a mile first-up and it worked out. Full marks to Matthew, we didn’t want to take the horse back at the start, we wanted a positive jump. Luckily, the apprentice set a good tempo on Thunder Stomp and the race unfolded well.”
Chadwick shared riding honours with a double of his own, unleashing a front-running masterclass on Holy Unicorn (118lb) to take the Class 5 Cheung Hong Handicap (1800m) at the five-year-old’s first run for Jimmy Ting. This meant that Ting has trained the winner of the opening race at three of the first four meetings this term – although the freshman trainer said it is a mixed blessing.
“I’m happy, but it is also a reminder that all of my horses are in the lower grades!” Ting exclaimed. “A win is a win though and I am very happy if they keep winning.”
First Glory for Cruz’s new recruit Circuit
Trainer Tony Cruz says that Class 2 Wah Fu Handicap (1650m) winner Circuit Glory (119lb) is capable of finding the form that saw him win the G2 Championship Stakes (2100m) in New Zealand pre-import, but that he needs a serious attitude adjustment in order to reach those heights.
“I’ve watched him for a while and he’s got a lot of bad habits, he showed them again tonight,” Cruz said. “But he’s always been an impressive horse, he won five of seven in New Zealand, and I think that if he can just be a bit better with his manners, he can win a few races this season.
“Derek (Leung) rode an ideal race and he won with a bit of authority there.”
The night’s feature, the Class 3 Community Chest Cup Handicap (1000m), was taken by the Ricky Yiu-trained Keep Moving (123lb), who appreciated the 10-pound claim of apprentice Victor Wong.
“He’s a horse with plenty of talent, but he’s had a few issues,” Yiu said. “Not many horses can win five from 10 in Hong Kong though. The Happy Valley 1000m is perfect for him with tempo and pace, so I will look for another one now he will be in Class 2.
Yiu also prepared a double with Mickey Rich (128lb) taking the first section of the Class 4 Hing Man Handicap (1200m). The Sepoy four-year-old provided jockey Neil Callan with his first win of the term.
Also scoring a first win for the season was trainer David Ferraris, with Ambitious Heart (126lb) racing clear for a strong on-speed win in the Hing Man Handicap’s second section under Alberto Sanna.
Racing continues at Sha Tin on Sunday (16 September) with a 10-race card.
Sha Tin Racecourse stages the final Pattern race of the 2017/18 season on Sunday, 24 June, with the Premier Cup Handicap (1400m) being the second of two Group 3 contests on a cracking 10-race card.
Karis Teetan will partner California Whip for the first time, with the Tony Cruz-trained gelding rated seventh of eight in the handicap and allotted a featherweight 114lb.
“The horse is very good at 1400 metres and he has a nice low weight on his back so it looks like he’s going in with a nice chance,” the Mauritian ace said at Sha Tin this morning (Friday, 22 June).
The five-year-old saw off Racing Supernova to score at the course and distance under Neil Callan last time. That was in Class 1 and the victory saw him raised six points to a peak rating of 104.
“His last run was good and he has plenty of experience behind him, so although he’s up in the ratings he’s one of the main contenders in the race,” Teetan said.
Cruz will also saddle Winner’s Way (130lb), the mount of championship leader Zac Purton who steered the five-year-old to a length success over the re-opposing Born In China (121lb) in last month’s G3 Sha Tin Vase Handicap (1200m).
“Both of mine have big chances,” the handler said.
“California Whip is in top form, he should love any give in the ground if we do get rain and the 1400m is his pet distance. But I just like Winner’s Way, he won well at 1200 metres last time and 1400 is no problem to him.”
With Royal Ascot the main focus in the horse racing world this week, it is worth recalling Born In China’s victory at the meeting in the 2014 Britannia Handicap (1600m) when known as Born In Bombay. The Shamardal seven-year-old has won four of 23 starts in Hong Kong and heads into the Premier Cup in fine fettle according to trainer Francis Lui.
“Born In China ran well in his last race and he has a good fighting heart,” he said. “He will like any rain in the ground and he has a chance, he’s in good form at the moment.”
Lui will also saddle stable star Lucky Bubbles (130lb). Last year’s G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m) winner has performed below par in three runs since the turn-of-the-year and was last of eight behind Winner’s Way last time.
“After the last run we found that he had a little problem with his soft palate, so hopefully that will not trouble him this time,” he said.
Lucky Bubbles has only twice ventured beyond 1200m in his 25-race career – third at the course and distance in Class 1 back in December, 2015, and fourth in the 2016 Hong Kong Classic Mile.
“It’s hard to say how he will perform because it’s his first time at 1400m for a long time, but if you look at his last run it seemed that he didn’t have the gate speed. This is a find-out race in some ways,” Lui said.
Joao Moreira, five wins down in the premiership race with Purton, will partner last year’s impressive Premier Cup winner Thewizardofoz (133lb), a horse that has rarely been able to deliver on his undoubted promise. John Size’s six-year-old was a solid fourth in the Sha Tin Vase last time.
The Frankie Lor-trained Dundonnell (120lb), Joyful Trinity (116lb) from the Caspar Fownes stable, and the John Moore-trained Magic Legend (113lb) complete the line-up for the race, which is due off at 4.05pm.
The day’s other G3 feature, the Premier Plate Handicap (1800m), is scheduled for 2pm. The field of eight includes Exultant (133lb) and Gold Mount (133lb), second and third to Pakistan Star in the G1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m) last month.
Werther may not have returned to his original home of New Zealand, but trainer John Moore believes the similarities between the land of the long white cloud and his current Japanese environment may prove an asset when the champion stayer tackles the Takarazuka Kinen (2200m) at Hanshin Racecourse on Sunday.
Moore appeared at Hanshin on Friday morning, having arrived in Osaka yesterday, and observed that Werther was lighter than usual. Early bodyweight measurements released by the Japan Racing Association (JRA) had the six-year-old tipping the scales at 454kg (1000lb), down considerably from the 474kg (1046lb) he weighed when he ran in the G3 Lion Rock Trophy (1600m) earlier this month.
However, Moore’s first glimpse of Werther also filled him with confidence that the Tavistock gelding is ready for his tough assignment against many of Japan’s premier middle-distance gallopers.
“Obviously I’ve only just arrived in the country so I’m only getting my first look at him this morning,” Moore said.
“He is light but I’m not worried at all, I expected him to lose some weight from that last run both because he was first-up in a while and because he’s travelling.
“Horses will always lose weight when they travel, unless we give them plenty of time to acquaint themselves with their destination. Instead of the figure on the scale, I’m using my eyes and his colour and his coat tell me that he’s very fit and healthy, he has a good sheen to his coat and he’s dappled which is a very good sign.
“I still remember him from the Queensland Derby, which was his last run down under before we bought him,” he continued.
“He was skinny as anything, there was not much to him, but he still gave everything. He’s not like some of the Japanese horses that are big, tall, robust types; this is the typical New Zealand staying type. From what I’m seeing, I think he’s got a very good chance to win on Sunday.”
Moore, a noted traveller of horses worldwide, has been an infrequent visitor to Japan; he has not been represented in the country since Joyful Winner (ninth) and Able One (12th) ran in the 2007 Yasuda Kinen. However, the 68-year-old says that he is happy with the experience so far, particularly finding it helpful with Werther.
“It is my first trip to Osaka as a trainer and everything has gone well so far, it’s been a no-incident trip,” Moore said.
“The quarantine facility at Miki (Land Horse Park) was very good, my wife tells me it is one of the best in which we’ve had horses stabled, and he would have thought he was back in New Zealand there – he had the opportunity to go out and pick grass, so he was back to his original lifestyle from New Zealand.
“That seems to have sparked him up mentally. He was pulling us out of the box to get to the grass and he really loved it. The weather has been very similar to New Zealand too, a bit warmer but pretty wet so he could just be back in Wellington.
“That familiarity could prove crucial.
“You want a horse to feel in his comfort zone and while he is out of his familiar surroundings from Hong Kong, there’s still enough to make him feel comfortable. While he is in a different habitat, I’m trying to keep as much the same as possible in terms of how I train him. In fact, there aren’t too many changes overall – for example, the feed is exactly the same as Hong Kong, so there aren’t too many differences.”
One difference between Hong Kong and Japan comes in relation to the headgear Werther will wear on race day, with connections able to make a last-minute call on whether the gelding will sport cheekpieces in the race – that decision can be made as late as when the Takarazuka Kinen runners are parading behind the stalls
“In Japan, the rules state that he can wear the cheekpieces around to the starting gates and then the jockey has the chance to remove them if they choose,” Moore said.
“I talked to Hugh Bowman on a couple of occasions about what we would do with the gear: whether we would go to the blinkers, whether we would use no attachments at all or whether there was another option.
“The conclusion was, he would wear the cheekpieces around to the start and if Hugh feels the horse, going around to the start, is a little too fierce and too much on the chewy-chewy, then he will take them off. That was why we tried him in the cheekpieces in the gallop yesterday, to give him some experience in them and to make sure he was happy with them, and Romain (work rider) said he worked very well in them.”
Werther drew gate 13 in the 16-horse field at yesterday’s barrier draw, but Moore doesn’t believe the wide berth is much of an issue, particularly with almost 600 metres to the first turn.
“I walked part of the track today,” he said.
“The 2200m start is right down the end and I don’t see any difficulty with the gate, the 13 doesn’t worry me from up there. And to have the services of Hugh Bowman is a major asset, he’s already won the Japan Cup, he knows the riding styles of the local jockeys, the tempos of these races, so I’ll leave it in his capable hands to find the best position.
“He’s the number one jockey in the world, so I’m very fortunate to have him riding for me.”
For now, Moore is doing a rain dance – literally. With a wet weekend forecast in Osaka, the trainer was given an umbrella by the Japanese press for a photo opportunity and took full advantage, producing his best impersonation of Gene Kelly in Singin’ In The Rain as he hoped for a soft surface for Werther.
“The weather report is rain on the weekend and I couldn’t be happier,” said Moore. “He loves wet tracks. He is a much better horse with cut in the ground. We saw him win the QEII on a rain-affected track, he won by four and a half lengths and he beat the reigning Takarazuka Kinen winner (Lovely Day), who was the favourite, that day too!
“He is fine on a firm track, but he excels with a bit of cushion. Others don’t handle it, while he improves, so it is obviously ideal for us. When I walked it this morning, I could tell it had already firmed up noticeably so hopefully the rain arrives in the hour before the race.”
Werther cantered two laps of the Hanshin turf on Friday morning, with Moore saying that the bay would have a light morning on Saturday ahead of Sunday’s 325 million yen (HK$23 million) feature.
RACE horse owner Johnson Chen watched champion stayer Werther experience Hanshin Racecourse for the first time and revealed that he is fulfilling a lifelong dream in bringing his 2015/16 Hong Kong Horse of the Year to Japan to contest Sunday’s Group 1 Takarazuka Kinen (2200m).
The John Moore-trained Werther is only the second foreign horse to tackle the Takarazuka Kinen, one of two Japanese “all-star” races on the calendar along with December’s G1 Arima Kinen (2500m) at Nakayama. The first raider, Australian galloper Seto Stayer, finished ninth in 1997.
“Japan has always been very close to me and I am very attached personally,” said Chen, a Tokyo resident in his youth.
“I spent six years here and went to high school in Japan, so to be able to compete in Osaka in one of the best races in the country is a dream come true for me. Werther is like family for me, it has been such a joy to own him and to bring him here is very special.
“It has always been something we wanted to explore with him.
“It is closer to home than other big races, the facilities here are beautiful and the timing fits the Hong Kong programme very well. We have looked at the Japan Cup before, but it doesn’t fit as well for our big races. The timing of the Takarazuka Kinen though is very comfortable and it allows us to rest afterwards ahead of next season in Hong Kong.”
Werther’s road to the Takarazuka Kinen has not been the smoothest, but connections remain confident of a big performance in Sunday’s 325 million yen (about HK$23 million) feature.
The Tavistock gelding was barred from racing for three months, having bled after producing the second-fastest Sha Tin 2000m time on record when runner-up in February’s G1 Hong Kong Gold Cup. Werther then had a less than ideal warm-up when sixth under top-weight in the G3 Lion Rock Trophy (1600m) first-up on 3 June.
And while the three-time G1 winner has taken the trip in his stride, it has been eventful enough after a 6.1-magnitude earthquake struck Osaka on Monday. At that time, the six-year-old was completing his quarantine period at Miki Horse Land Park, 50 kilometres west of Osaka; he shipped across to Hanshin on Wednesday.
“To be honest, it probably had more impact on us than it did on him!” said the Moore stable’s trackwork rider Romain Clavreul. “We definitely felt it quite strongly. It is obviously something that doesn’t happen in Hong Kong, but I don’t think it fazed him at all.”
Moore is scheduled to arrive in Osaka on Thursday night to apply the finishing touches to Werther’s preparation, which has been overseen to date by his wife Fifi as well as Clavreul.
“We are really happy with him, he is enjoying Japan a lot,” Fifi Moore said. “He loves travelling, he always travelled well before he came here. Since he has been in Hong Kong, though, he hasn’t even gone across to Happy Valley so he had just spent nearly three years at Sha Tin only. He’s a six-year-old now so it is a good time to travel him.”
Werther took to the Hanshin turf just after dawn this morning, looking eager and full of zest as he stepped onto the rain-slicked surface. Cantering up to the top of the straight, Clavreul wheeled him around to complete a lap and a half of the course, galloping the last 1200m.
“The boss asked me to gallop 1200 metres in about one minute 24 seconds,” Clavreul said. “It’s a fairly tight course so I took him to the top of the straight and I then let him start to build up from the 1600 metres. He did it very well, he handled the track and the uphill part in the straight.”
Also creating interest was the application of cheek pieces this morning. It was a first-time gear addition for Werther, who typically wears a hood in his work at Sha Tin.
“I’m not sure what will happen with gear on Sunday, you will have to ask the boss when he arrives,” said the rider. “We were testing out the cheekpieces this morning and he responded well.”
And Clavreul, who has been with Moore since early March and has ridden Werther throughout his current preparation, says that the forecast of rain is a bonus.
“He loved the softer surface this morning, that layer of cushion on top really helped him and took him to another level,” the Frenchman said. “It looks like it might be wet on Sunday and I think that will really suit him.”
Werther has drawn gate 13 for Sunday’s contest, with regular partner Hugh Bowman arriving from Sydney tomorrow to take the mount.