Equus Awards look open to interpretation this season

Jockey S'Manga Khumalo on the winning horse Heavy Metal  at the Vodacom Durban July race on 6 July 2013 at the Greyville Racetrack in Durban. Picture: Christine Vermooten

Jockey S'Manga Khumalo on the winning horse Heavy Metal at the Vodacom Durban July race on 6 July 2013 at the Greyville Racetrack in Durban. Picture: Christine Vermooten

Heavy Metal, Variety Club, Beach Beauty and What A Winter all have outstanding chances of winning the coveted Horse Of The Year title when the Equus Awards are presented on 14 August.

The 2012-13 racing season was one where no horse stood out above the rest and the panel that decided the awards would not have had an easy time of things.

Heavy Metal, who races in the silks of popular owner Chris van Niekerk, won the country’s premier race, the Vodacom Durban July, as well as another of the country’s “Big Four” – the President’s Champions Challenge at Turffontein. He also finished second behind Seal in the Jubilee Handicap (Grade 3). He was easy to back in both his wins and that might count against Sean Tarry’s charge when the panellists vote.

He and Variety Club are currently in quarantine and will leave next week for Mauritius on a five-month journey to Dubai.

Variety Club, who is owed by Ingrid and Markus Jooste, was unbeaten in five runs this season, with two of his successes coming at G1 level in the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate and the Gold Challenge. The Joey Ramsden-trained son of Var also won the Green Point Stakes (G2). His season was flawless but has been described as “unimaginative”.

The Shanks Syndicate’s Beach Beauty won two Grade 1 races, the Main Chance Farms Paddock Stakes and the Jonsson Workwear Garden Province Stakes, plus two Grade 2 events in the Calulo Services Premier Trophy and the Drill Hall Stakes. Trainer Dennis Drier also sent her out to finish second behind Variety Club in the Gold Challenge (G1) and third behind Martial Eagle in the J&B Met (G1). The mare, who turns six tomorrow, scored both her G1 wins against her own sex, though. It has been suggested that she will remain in training next season.

What A Winter won two of the country’s three premier sprints, the Cape Flying Championship and the Computaform Sprint, and finished third behind All Is Secret in the other, the Mercury Sprint. Another win, in the G2 Diadem Stakes, puts him firmly in the reckoning for the top award.

All four deserve to walk away with at least one trophy.

Heavy Metal has been nominated for two awards: Champion Older Male (competing against Variety Club and What A Winter) and Champion Middle-Distance Horse, where he butts heads with Beach Beauty and Jackson, winner of last Saturday’s Champions Cup and placed in the Queen’s Plate, the Mercury Sprint and the Green Point Stakes.

Apart from Champion Older Male, Variety Club is also nominated, alongside Beach Beauty, as Champion Miler – a new category in the Equus line-up.

What A Winter, who has been retired to stud, is in line for Champion Sprinter accolades alongside All Is Secret and Via Africa (winner of the G1 SA Fillies Sprint, the G2 Southern Cross Stakes and the Listed KwaZulu-Natal Stakes as well as placed in the G1 Cape Flying Championship and the G1 Computaform Sprint). All three are top-class individuals, but What A Winter’s rivals only won one G1 race each, as opposed to his two.

There is only one nominee for the Champion Older Filly-Mare award, but the panellists are not saying a word. My speculation is: Beach Beauty.

The G1 races for two-year-olds were all won by different horses so picking the award winners would have been tricky and it would be foolhardy to speculate who got the panellists’ votes.

The top three-year-old colt in my book is Vercingetorix, who beat both his rivals for the prize, Capetown Noir and Wylie Hall, in the Daily News 2000, although Capetown Noir did win two G1 races and is a strong contender.

My nod for the three-year-old filly accolade goes to Triple Tiara winner Cherry On The Top. She was beaten by Do You Remember in the Woolavington 2000, but her rival was the bridesmaid in the Triple Tiara races. The third horse up for the award is Via Africa, whose seconds to What A Winter in the Cape Flying Championship and the Computaform Sprint made her a legend.

Champion stayer is likely to be Jeppe’s Reef, who won the Gold Cup, the only G1 race for allcomers over 2300m in the country.

The nominations are:

Champion Two-Year-Old Colt: Captain Of All; Forest Indigo; Kochka; Willow Magic

Champion Two-Year-Old Filly: Along Came Polly; For The Lads; Happy Valentine

Champion Three-Year-Old Colt: Capetown Noir; Vercingetorix; Wylie Hall

Champion Three-Year-Old Filly: Cherry On The Top; Do You Remember; Via Africa

Champion Older Male: Heavy Metal; Variety Club; What A Winter

Champion Older Filly-Mare: only one nominee

Champion Sprinter: All is Secret; Via Africa; What a Winter

Champion Miler: Beach Beauty; Variety Club

Champion Middle-Distance Horse: Beach Beauty; Heavy Metal; Jackson

Champion Stayer: Canterbury Tale; Cherry on the Top; Ilsanpietro; Jeppe’s Reef; Seal; Wylie Hall

Horse of the year: to be announced at Equus Award ceremony

The panellists were journalist Andrew Harrison, Tellytrack’s Nico Kritsiotis, commentator Jehan Malherbe, Phumelela Racing Executive Patrick Davis, Phumelela Marketing and Communications Manager Robert Garner, Gold Circle’s Graeme Hawkins, chief handicapper Roger Smith and handicapper Matthew Lips, with Racing Association Chief Executive Larry Wainstein acting as a non-voting chairman.

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