Equus Horse Of The Year – Headache For Judges

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The Horse Of The Year will be a headache for the judges.  They must be wishing that we used the same voting method as the Oscars instead.

Logically enough, the Horse-Of-The-Year has to emerge from one of the winners of the general categories.

What a pity without even having to consider a stayer this year after that category was dropped for being unclear, or maybe just not worth their time?

Many great trainers were of the opinion that it took a ‘Gold Cup’ horse to win the July.  Recent results have put an end to that as a rule of thumb.  Whatever, the industry has clearly given up.

Tony Mincione suggests in the Sporting Post Mailbag that a process of elimination could help narrow the likely candidates for racings’ ‘Best Horse’ award.

It takes an exceptional sprinter to nail the Horse Of The Year award because you have to outshine everyone, despite not running in any of the ‘classics’, so this year that’s out.

It can’t be a juvenile this year, so they’re out too.

That leaves us with Grade 1 winners between a mile and 2200m.

It is very difficult to convince anyone that you are the best horse in the country if you can’t win more than one big race, or if each race is won by a different horse each time.

Vardy never won again after the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate (Pic – Chase Liebenberg)

VARDY won the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate and basically took the lead for Horse-Of-The-Year.  Having all of One World, Rainbow Bridge, Hawwaam and Do It Again behind him at WFA meant the fast-finisher just needed to confirm he could be as good over 2000m and not out-sprinting them off the Cape pace.  Unfortunately for VARDY, that was his last win for the season.

HAWWAAM was thoroughly beaten in Cape Town’s two big WFA races by the same horses each time, but not far off enough to draw a line through the efforts.  On return to JHB, Hawwaam redeemed himself by two Gr1 wins, but both times beating stable companions who aren’t nominated for anything.  A great horse, but makes the list by trading on last season’s reputation and has been beaten by too many who are real contenders to win Horse-Of-The-Year.

This season BELGARION won 5 races in-a-row including the July.  On the face of it this would be enough to win Horse-Of-The-Year.  But only having run in a single Gr1, a handicap in which he was clearly orchestrated to be “handicapped to win” would leave most judges unconvinced.  This 4yo only just beat 3yo Got The Greenlight by 0.80 at level weights (so an inferior run at WFA) and Do It Again by 0.90 lengths but carrying a colossal 6.5kgs less.  So no cigar this time, maybe next year?

SA racing’s darling – Summer Pudding (Pic – JC Photos)

SUMMER PUDDING is the darling of the SA turf.  In the space of about 44 weeks, she is unbeaten in 8 races culminating with one of the most special “come-backs” to be seen in a classic race to win the Woolavington 2000 Gr1.  She ticks almost every box.  Almost.  She never ventured a race against the other 50% of the population in SA.

Igugu travelled to Durban also having beaten only fillies to win the Woolavington, but then hoisted her sail in the open July,  and dished out a galloping lesson to secure the Horse-Of-The-Year.

For Summer Pudding, not a single horse who ran 2nd to her is mentioned anywhere for an award, and her careful programming to stay well clear of open competition is almost certain to have us wondering if she really is better than a Hawwaam, a One World or a 3yo like Got The Greenlight.  We are left wondering what her July run would have been, or a run against a proper Gr1 horse…any Gr1 horse.  Can’t wait for her return though.

DO IT AGAIN, what a meritorious horse.  Whatever case you make for South Africa’s double July winner and mostly highest rated athlete, this season he just didn’t cross the line first.  A great warrior and defending champion, but not Horse-Of-The-Year this year.

RAINBOW BRIDGE:  if ever a horse should have been, this is the one.  While Rainbow Bridge won the Gr1 Gold Challenge to beat Vardy by 0.90 in the post lockdown June feature, for most the race was a prep run over a mile and is just not enough to make the claim in the face of other winning performances this season.

ONE WORLD won the WFA Met beating the evergame line-horse Rainbow Bridge and leaving champion elect Hawwaam nearly 4L behind.  The Met confirmed the Queens Plate leaving little doubt.  One World however, left his fans hanging after the Met by declaring early retirement.

One World retired after the Met (Pic – Chase Liebenberg)

Having beaten the best at WFA he was definitely now leader for Horse-Of-The-Year, still pre-lockdown with no excuses having vanquished Rainbow Bridge, Hawwaam and Do It Again repeatedly, and now Vardy too in a Met spectacle.  If nothing else, One World shows how the KZN winter season is the real melting pot for SA racing, and everything else is the build up.

GOT THE GREENLIGHT won the SA Classic Gr1, almost won the Gr1 derby (3rd to Out Of Your League) and then won the 3yo-decider, the Daily News Gr1.  This is about enough to win Horse-Of-The-Year.  But Got The Greenlight pressed with a majestic run in the July, handicapped out of it by 4yo Belgarion (who he beats at WFA terms by not receiving 2kgs for the 0.80L).  Spare a thought though for Do It Again, shouldering 59.5kgs to be beat a mere 0.90 L conceding 6.5kgs all round.

GOLDEN DUCAT won a fairly average looking Cape Derby Gr1.  It would be somewhat surprising that a maiden winner could do this, if he didn’t share a dam with Rainbow Bridge and Hawwaam.  But he does.  In his next attempt over 2000m, he ran 3rd to Got The Greenlight in the Gr1 Daily News.  His next run was 4th behind the July trio that features so much here, a length behind the three.

If the season ended here, then it’s giant slayer One World and the indefatigable 3yo Got The Greenlight who are the main contenders for Horse-Of-The-Year.  But the delayed season incorporated the aptly named  WSB Champions Cup Gr1.

Sometimes this is a somewhat ‘tired’ race, but not this time.

The WSB Champions Cup thriller (Pic – Candiese Lenferna)

Both Rainbow Bridge and Do It Again are heavyweight champions and both were on youthful form, both very dangerous on their previous two starts.  The pair were rightfully priced up joint favourites for this Gr1 title clincher, which for all the money looked like a boat race of the best two remaining runners in SA after the retirement of One World and the departure of Hawwaam.

But with 4 horses shooting across the line within 0.85L and Golden Ducat finds the 5.5kgs ability gap he had with Do It Again and Rainbow Bridge, both right there and neither able to halt his improvement.  Cirillo, 1.50 L to Hawwam in the Horse Chestnut Gr1 in the sandwich franking the official ratings and his place in the field.  Golden Ducat….if he hadn’t won, and if it wasn’t those two..no, those three!  But he did win, and it was against those three, at weight for age this time!  He has to be favourite to win Horse-Of-The-Year.

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