Monday`s Equus Awards yielded few surprises, if any, and it is doubtful
that there will be too many quibbles over the final decisions announced on the
night. Certainly, after some of the controversies that dogged the awards in
recent years, the 2007 edition can be said to have been a pretty sedate affair.
Some categories were pretty clear cut: Argonaut (Western Winter (USA))
(champion juvenile male), Sun Classique (AUS) (Fuji Kiseki (JPN)) (champion
3-year-old classic filly) and Bold Ellinore (KAHAL (GB)) (champion older middle
distance female) had clearly shown and done more than their rivals over the
course of the season. Likewise the classy Ethereal Lady whose impressive
despatching of a strong Gr 1 SA Fillies Sprint field, along with a string of
other useful performances, made her a standout as champion 3-year-old sprinting
filly. While there were other nominations put up, these four were always going
to be odds-on to clinch their titles and deservedly so.
Others were much more of a bunfight, but on the whole, the panel could
justify their decisions and even those who may choose to disagree with them on
specific awards will have to sympathise and admit that in certain categories,
the judges had some horribly difficult choices in front of them.
Rat Burana (BRZ) (Dodge (USA)) got the nod for champion juvenile filly on the
grounds of remaining undefeated after two starts and landing the Gr 1 Alan
Robertson where she beat a decent field with ease. Stablemate Gilded Minaret (Al
Mufti (USA)) had been just as impressive when storming home in the Gr 1 Golden
Slipper and she would have surely clinched it had she followed up by winning the
Thekwini at the end of the season, but her unplaced effort there worked against
her. Nania (Western Winter (USA)) had her claims, having been impressive when
flying up for second in the Debutante and then going on to win the Thekwini,
while Diana`s Choice (Windrush (USA)) arguably outdid all of them by winning
the Cape Nursery against the colts. Presumably, though, her failure to tackle
the big winter races in KwaZulu Natal (KZN) counted against her. All in all, it
was a very open category and one cannot be critical of the judges` final call.
Unlike the fillies, the 3-year-old male categories were not entirely
The 3-year-old sprinting male nominees made up an enthralling division and it
is not often that three such high-class runners clash in one season.
Interestingly, Mythical Flight (Jet Master) had already been beaten by both War
Artist (Aus) (Orpen (USA)) and Kildonan (Rich Man`s Gold (USA)), but he still
triumphed over them to take the award. This made sense – at the end of the
day, Mythical Flight had been invincible over 1000m, breaking the national
record in the process. His narrow defeats over 1200m had still won him many
admirers as he had fought on gamely despite the tank emptying late and wasn`t
beaten far – and let`s not forget he had a moral victory at the weights when
touched off by Kildonan in the Golden Horse Sprint. It`s hard to imagine his
two rivals here being able to catch him back over the minimum trip and looking
at performances over the season, he is a worthy winner.
The 3-year-old middle distance male eventually went to Jay Peg (Camden Park
(USA)) for his overall consistency and it certainly would not have hurt that he
completed the Gr 1 Cape classic double of Guineas and Derby. But this was a
tricky group to choose from and the other nominees were only just caught short.
Buy And Sell was an interesting contender, because he was not generally
considered among the top tier of his age group earlier in the season, but by the
end of it was surely the most improved with his runaway Daily News win and his
agonisingly close defeat in the July. Pick Six (Rambo Dancer (CAN)) had a great
chance after his Gomma Gomma Gr.1 win, but his failures in KZN counted him out
while Divine Jury (Jallad (USA)), admirable as he is, was never going to get
into the hunt once it became clear he could not take his place during the KZN
winter. Ravishing is a promising prospect, but his nomination seemed optimistic
– he beat two useful sorts in the SA Derby, but that form was not in the
league of some his rivals.
Disco Queen (Goldkeeper (USA)) triumphed in an open-looking older sprinting
female category and this top mare earned it on the strength of her impressive
Merchants win where she had beaten a big field of male runners, later followed
up by a Poinsettia victory where she beat a number of the top sprinting fillies
around. Nobody can begrudge her the award. However, here`s a left-field view
to consider: Mocha Java (National Assembly (CAN) only managed one win in the
season – also beating the males in the Tommy Hotspur – but she ran some
cracking races in defeat when chasing home Mythical Flight. Always a 1000m
specialist, she closed off the season with a superb fourth place in the 1200m
Mercury Sprint, where she had three top males in front of her: War Artist, Rebel
King (National Emblem (SAF)) and Mythical Flight. Thus, her form in defeat was
arguably stronger than the winning efforts of other candidates for this award.
The male equivalent of this award was truly bizarre – when one sees
high-class middle distance horses such as Elusive Fort (Fort Wood (USA)) and
Succesful Bidder (Jallad (USA)) being put up as nominations in this category,
then one knows that something is seriously wrong. However, one has to have
sympathy for the panel here, as the pure sprinting ranks were completely
dominated by the 3-year-olds. In the end, Succesful Bidder got it on the
strength of his Drill Hall win and while it is a tenuous way to choose a
champion sprinter, there weren`t too many realistic options. It was nice to
see the son of Jallad get an award, though, as his progress through the season
was genuinely inspiring, considering his fragile legs and he is undoubtedly in
the top tier of the country`s racehorses.
The staying categories always raise comment of one sort or another, usually
to do with the quality of our long-distance runners.
The choice of Long Dollar (Rakeen (USA)) among the males was, on balance, the
right one. Ravishing (Jet Master (SAF)) was also nominated here, on the strength
of his Derby win, and indeed, this high-class campaigner will, with due respect,
surely go on to much bigger things than Long Dollar if he builds on the promise
he has shown in his short career. However, that is not the point. Ravishing has
only once campaigned over a staying distance – and that too over the
near-minimum 2450m. Long Dollar won two important features in the form of the
Gold Bowl and Gold Vase and was placed in the Caradoc Gold Cup and I believe it
is imperative that the champion stayer wins features at or near two miles, which
is exactly what he has achieved. He may not be an Aquanaut or Hawkins, but with
the staying cupboard looking bare, he got the job done and put the wins on the
board, and he has been duly rewarded.
The female equivalent further illustrated the lack of quality in the staying
ranks. Both Festive Occasion and River Jetez are very useful fillies, but
neither can be classified as a stayer in the traditional sense, as each has only
campaigned once over a mile-and-a-half and it is unlikely that we will be seeing
them over marathon trips in the future (I would love to be proved wrong,
though!). Each of them had won an Oaks and in their only meeting, Festive
Occasion (Casey Tibbs (IRE)) nosed out River Jetez (Jet Master (SAF)) in the
Woolavington over 2200m, and this probably made the difference.
Pocket Power`s (Jet Master (SAF)) award as champion middle distance older
male did not raise too many eyebrows and ironically, his efforts in defeat may
well have outstripped his prestigious J & B Met- Queens Plate double. His
second in the Gold Challenge won him many friends and his belated charge up the
Clairwood straight, only to lose by a nose, is well entrenched as one of the
season`s enduring images. His run in the July under 58kg was also full of
merit – he was conceding weight all round, only be beaten by less than a
half-length and it certainly would not have lost him any fans.
The big prize of Horse Of The Year always looked likely to be between Pocket
Power and Mythical Flight and either of them would have a been a popular choice
as both had performed tremendously well through the season. Pocket Power got the
verdict in the end, but the Mythical Flight camp will know that they came very,
very close. It`s hard to shake the feeling that the champion sprinter was just
one victory away from clinching the biggest award of all – had he lasted long
enough in either the Golden Horse or the Mercury, the judges would have been
hard pressed to overlook him.
On such tight margins do these decisions hang and speaking of tight margins,
here`s an interesting thought to close off with: Argonaut only just failed to
catch Seventh Rock (AUS) (Rock of Gibraltar (IRE)) in the Gold Medallion over a
too-sharp 1200m. Had his late lunge actually got him home, he would have been
unbeaten in four starts and finished the season with three Gr 1 wins – not to
mention having caused the most amazing buzz among racing fans. Had that
happened, would the panel have considered a juvenile for Horse Of The Year?