Moore and Berry are sweet on Werther, Helene Paragon’s a quandary
Werther and Helene Paragon caught the eye in their final fast workouts at Sha Tin Racecourse this morning, Thursday, 7 December, but for contrasting reasons.
John Moore sent four of his seven LONGINES Hong Kong International Races contenders around the turf track before dawn – each paired with a companion horse – and while Werther put in a strong gallop, Helene Paragon did not.
“If all goes well on the day, Werther’s the one they have to beat, I think,” big-race pilot Tommy Berry said later.
And of Helene Paragon’s lacklustre show, the rider said: “It wasn’t the best piece of work he’s put in – I won’t shy away from saying that. He’s definitely worked better in the past.”
Werther needs to win this weekend’s HK$25 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup to complete a full-set of Sha Tin’s elite mile and a quarter races. The three-time G1 winner, successful in the G2 Jockey Club Cup at the course and distance three weeks ago, quickened past Midnight Rattler down the floodlit home stretch. The Tavistock gelding clocked 1m 21.5s (29.2, 28.7, 23.6) for 1200 metres and was well on top as the pair swung past trainer John Moore, positioned on the turn just after the winning post.
“Werther was the pick of them this morning, the standout,” the handler said. “He hit the line really well. We’ve done all we can to get him to peak fitness and now we’re just hoping he can give the race a real shake.
“I think he’s in as good form as he’s ever been. He’s got a very big heart, this horse, and we’re going in with confidence. He was underdone last time and he still fought off a pretty smart horse (Time Warp) to win – and the pace didn’t suit that day either. He’s a fitter horse now.”
The manner of Werther’s gallop this morning was just what Berry was looking for, too.
“He hasn’t worked badly all preparation, he’s always a good worker, so we didn’t expect anything different from him,” the rider said.
“He did have a bit of a blow, so that work will top him off perfectly for the weekend. It’ll probably take a bit of the sting out of him as well, because the last three or four days he’s been travelling quite keen in his work – he’s been getting a little bit above himself.”
Moore’s tone was muted after Helene Paragon had failed to dominate his lead horse, Harbour Master. The five-year-old was runner-up to Beauty Only in last year’s LONGINES Hong Kong Mile, his target again on Sunday.
“He was a little disappointing in his work,” Moore said. “We’ll take him back to the stable and put a fine-toothed comb over him, so to speak, and see if there’s anything we can improve. He worked ok but he could have worked better.”
Helene Paragon clocked the fastest time of the G1 quartet over the 1200m – 1m 20.0s (28.5, 27.9, 23.6) – but the visual was unimpressive. It follows a subdued dirt track barrier trial last week when the dual G1 winner wore a pacifier to protect an eye injury, as well as a hood. Berry, though, while sifting his thoughts for answers post-gallop, was not overly perturbed.
“It’s a funny one because he pulled up really well and he feels really good within himself – he came bouncing off the track,” the stable jockey said. “His mannerisms, his breathing, everything feels 100 percent bar that piece of work. But he’s a colt and sometimes they can do that. John will look at him in the stable, but we’ll probably know more after the race on Sunday.”
Berry was also astride Moore’s LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m) entrant Eagle Way. The chestnut strode past his lead, Beauty Prince, like a horse working his way back towards fitness following his recent illness as he stopped the watch at 1m 21.6s (29.4, 29.3, 22.9) for 1200m.
“He’s surprised me because he’s had that setback with the lung infection and he’s had two weeks where he barely did anything, so I didn’t expect him to come up the way he has,” Berry said.
“I guess being a very light horse, so he doesn’t carry much condition, has probably helped him. His work this morning was as good as he’s ever worked and that surprised me. I was expecting him to pull up and a have a big blow and he didn’t.
“But, still, going into a race like this – I think it’s the strongest of the four, with a horse like Highland Reel and the Japanese horses, it’s going to be tough. He’ll have to run up to his best just to be in the top five,” he added.
Sam Clipperton was aboard Moore’s other LONGINES Hong Kong Vase runner, Helene Charisma. The French import has struggled this season, often hanging in his races when acceleration has been engaged.
“He went really well. He hit the line really strongly, he didn’t hang, and, with the blinkers on, I’m very pleased with that work,” Moore said of the 2016 G1 Grand Prix de Paris (2400m) winner, who led Rivet all the way and clocked 1m 21.5s (28.8, 29.3, 23.4).
“We put the blinkers on because we want to look at the option of just changing tactics and letting him stride on. He’s always come to do it in his races and then gone into that hanging-in mode, so one would have to entertain different riding tactics,” he said.
Moore’s other three LONGINES HKIR entrants are Beauty Generation and Joyful Trinity in the LONGINES Hong Kong Mile and Not Listenin’tome in the LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m).