Setbacks, an earthquake, weight loss, a wide draw and firm ground could not stop Werther’s bid for glory in the G1 Takarazuka Kinen (2200m), but a Rocket could as the champion stayer fell just short of victory at Hanshin Racecourse today (Sunday, 24 June).
“We are so proud of him, he is all heart,” said an emotional John Moore, the trainer’s voice cracking, after Werther returned to the runner-up stall in front of almost 66,000 spectators.
“He’s a horse that knows where the winning post is and he showed a lot of fortitude to hit the line. I don’t like running second, never do, but from a Hong Kong point of view, we’ve shown just how good our best stayer is. To take on the best of the Japanese and to run as well as he did, it just shows – don’t take Hong Kong’s horses lightly.”
Werther was sent off at 14.9 on the Japanese tote, the 10th pick in betting in the field of 16. From gate 13, jockey Hugh Bowman snagged the Tavistock gelding back to settle in the last four down the Hanshin straight the first time, sitting quietly on the bay until the 600m point.
Bowman then brought Hong Kong’s 2015/16 Horse of the Year to the outside of the field and began to track up promisingly, making strides at every call. Cornering widest of all, he came with a withering run down the centre of the track and, entering Hanshin’s notorious rise at the 200m, he loomed up as the possible winner.
However, he could not reel in trainer Hidetaka Otonashi’s gutsy Mikki Rocket, who scraped home for a neck victory. Noble Mars was third for trainer Hiroshi Miyamoto, three lengths behind Werther, while Dubai Turf winner Vivlos (fourth), Arima Kinen winner Satono Diamond (sixth), Kikuka Sho victor Kiseki (eighth) and LONGINES Hong Kong Vase winner Satono Crown (12th), the defending champion, were among those in behind.
It was a notable effort from Werther given that he was entering the Takarazuka Kinen with only one run under his belt in the last four months. That was in the G3 Lion Rock Trophy Handicap (1600m) three weeks ago, where he finished sixth to The Golden Age under top-weight.
“If he had been aimed solely for this with a preparation to suit, rather than this being something of an afterthought with only the one mile run under him, I think he would have won,” Bowman said.
“The one run at a mile up to a Japanese 2200m race is not easy and, even though these races suit his style, his condition just gave out late. Full credit must go to John and the stable for getting him to this level at this distance and for getting him to run so well.”