Moore and Berry are sweet on Werther, Helene Paragon’s a quandary

By David Morgan
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).
Unlucky at the draw, Bowman wants a Lucky win in the LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint
By David Morgan
Lucky Bubbles will attempt to snap a hoodoo at the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races on Sunday, 10 December. The speedy chestnut has drawn gate one in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint, a starting berth from which no horse has triumphed in the 11 years since the race distance extended to 1200 metres.
Hugh Bowman is the jockey tasked with plotting a trouble-free route to victory from the rail-side barrier. The Australian ace partnered Lucky Bubbles through a smooth breeze of the all-weather track early this morning: shortly afterwards, he passed comment on the favourability of an inside gate.
“At the end of the day, we could have the inside draw and it could be the worst draw possible,” he said.
A couple of hours later, that line took on unwanted prescience.
“Draw one again! We had draw one last start. It’s no good,” trainer Francis Lui said after the official barrier draw was made late morning, referencing the G2 Jockey Club Sprint three weeks ago. On that occasion, Lucky Bubbles was trapped on the rail and finished an untested ninth under Zac Purton.
The best placing by a horse breaking from stall one in the Hong Kong Sprint came last year when Peniaphobia burst to the lead and held on for third. Lucky Bubbles’ connections can take heart though as the six-year-old went close from gate one over the Sha Tin 1200m when a neck second in the 2016 G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize.
And then there’s the matter of his big rival and likely race favourite Mr Stunning drawing four. No horse has won, or even placed second, from that berth either.
Lucky Bubbles’ workout this morning – clocked at 53.0s (28.6, 24.4) for the concluding 800m – also gave cause for optimism.
“He wasn’t out to break any records; he had his main gallop on Monday from what I understand, so he just stretched his legs. He felt good,” Bowman said.
“He’s certainly one of the leading chances on what I’ve seen so far. He’s a very straightforward horse, and he seems a very happy horse. He does have an incredible will to win and he doesn’t mix his form, he’s very consistent.”
Lucky Bubbles was second to Aerovelocity in last year’s LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint and went on to defeat Mr Stunning by a neck in this year’s Chairman’s Sprint Prize back in May. The latter was Bowman’s first and so far only race-ride on the six-year-old.
“At this level, he doesn’t have 10 pounds on his opposition, he can’t do it all and win, but if he can just have something go his way and be there to pounce with a bit of fuel in the tank, he’s certainly one of the key players,” he said.
“I’m not concerned about whether he’s ready to go or not, Francis has done the work to get him ready, I’d just like to think we can get a nice, smooth run and have our chance. I’m sure he’ll run his race, given his chance.”
And with a final word on the draw, the soon-to-be-crowned LONGINES World’s Best Jockey said, “I drew well last year and was on the end of some significant interference. Really, until the race is run and won, it’s hard to know where the best place is going to be.”
Joy and frustration as luck plays her hand at the LONGINES HKIR barrier draw
By Steve Moran
The three arguably best credentialled Hong Kong-trained contenders Mr Stunning, Seasons Bloom and Werther fared ideally at today’s barrier draw for Sunday’s LONGINES Hong Kong International Races.
However, it was a case of the barrier blues for two of the world’s most successful trainers Aidan O’Brien and Sir Michael Stoute, and also for local training and riding legend Tony Cruz.
Only one of O’Brien’s five runners drew inside seven and his two three-year-old Mile contenders Lancaster Bomber and Roly Poly drew 11 and 14 respectively, which O’Brien’s travelling head lad Pat Keating described as “Disappointing”.
Stoute’s two runners – Smart Call and Poet’s Word – drew double figure stalls, while Cruz’s hasty departure from the draw ceremony may have spoken to his displeasure with Gold Mount and Beauty Only each drawing gate 12 – presenting a test for Wednesday night’s LONGINES International Jockeys Championship winner Zac Purton.
In contrast, Hong Kong-based jockey Nash Rawiller was delighted to see Mr Stunning, the likely favorite in the Hong Kong Sprint, draw gate four. “If I’d had the chance to choose the barrier then I would have gone for four or five so the four’s just perfect,” he said.
Trainer John Moore was similarly pleased with Werther’s gate three in the LONGINES Hong Kong Cup.
“Werther’s the flagship horse,” he said. “We wanted three, four or five – when the owner drew three, I couldn’t believe it. The owner did a great job drawing gate three, especially with Neorealism drawing the inside and Time Warp in gate five. The pace influences are all around us so they are going to go forward, so we are going to get the gun run. He’s got enough gate speed, so he’ll be tracking the speed. From our point of view, the draw is perfect.”
Seasons Bloom, one of the major local players in the Mile, came up with gate five, which looks ideal for the horse and champion jockey Joao Moreira.
Trainer Danny Shum said: “That’s good, a very good draw, especially when Joao knows the track, he knows the horse, he knows everything. He will be able to have the horse where he is comfortable. I’m excited for Sunday.”
The draw also smiled on Moreira’s prospects in the Cup with Japan’s Neorealism, on whom he won this year’s QEII Cup, being assigned gate one.
While Poet’s Word drew awkwardly, widest of the 12 runners in the Cup, his fellow Great Britain representatives Robin Of Navan and Blond Me drew four and 10 respectively, which pleased their trainers. Harry Dunlop, trainer of Robin Of Navan, said: “That’s a huge relief, it’s a good draw and I’m next to the favourite.”
Blond Me’s trainer Andrew Balding was unperturbed his mare drew wide. “That will suit her. I’d much rather that than drawing low,” he said.
The face value of the draw is not always what it seems and trainer Francis Lui had mixed feelings about his outstanding sprinter Lucky Bubbles drawing barrier one in the Sprint. No horse has won the Sprint from gate one at its current 1200m distance.
“Draw one again! We had draw one last start. It’s no good,” Lui said in reference to Lucky Bubbles’ ninth place in the BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Sprint (1200m), on 19 November, when he was blocked for clear running.
“Although we did have the inside in the G1 last year (behind Chautauqua in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize) so it’s not horrible. The good draws were already gone so I am glad he got one rather than 11, 12, 13. It was best of what was left. Sure, we will need luck again but every race, you need luck.”
French sprinter Signs Of Blessing, who finished fifth from barrier 13 last year, fared better with gate five this time. “We’re very, very happy. Much better than last year. We are next to perhaps the race favourite (Mr Stunning) and it’s a stall which enables us to adopt the horse’s preferred tactics to go forward.”
Talismanic is another well-favoured runner from France, and the Breeders’ Cup Turf winner will break from stall one in the LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m), the same gate from where he produced his international breakthrough performance at Del Mar last month.
Godolphin representative Lisa-Jane Graffard said: “He’ll have to take advantage of the draw but he is a very adaptable horse and very easy to place in his races. Andre Fabre arrives tomorrow and once he has had a look at the horse, he will decide tactics with Maxime Guyon.”
Highland Reel, third behind Talismanic at Del Mar, drew eight – one inside the gate from which he won the race in 2015. “I’d have preferred Highland Reel to be four to six but eight’s ok. The Cup draws are fine for Deauville and War Decree,” Keating said.
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