On the Rails
with Alan Aitken
This Sunday's Champion Awards have a different look, with the main Horse Of the Year award surely going to Sacred Kingdom but some of the under-categories have a contentious look. Usually, each of the individual categories has an obvious, dominant player and judging Horse Of The Year comes down to the relative merits of the category winners.
With three Group One wins, including an international event in the Hong Kong Sprint, Sacred Kingdom's achievements stand clear of his rivals for champion sprinter - Green Birdie, Ultra Fantasy, Joy And Fun and Happy Zero.
Awards are often decided by short memories, with the most recent, freshest achievements taking on a greater standing on that basis alone, but even having his season curtailed by the bout of colic on the tarmac at Chek Lap Kok has not dimmed Sacred Kingdom's stature.
He was the champion sprinter and, since no other horse managed to dominate any other category with more than one Group One for the season, he is also the logical Horse Of The Year.
The champion stayer award relies solely on the results of the Queen Mother Memorial, a Group Three handicap, and the Champions & Chater, a Group One, so the winner of the latter logically is the champion stayer and that was Mr Medici.
Brave Kid's six wins and 60-point rise in the ratings would have made him the winner of the most improved award virtually any other year. However, stablemate Entrapment's historic seven wins, 63-point rating rise and victory in the Juvenile Sprint Trophy ensure he will be named the most improved as well as the champion griffin, in a strong year for that category.
But that's where it becomes more interesting in the major categories of champion miler and champion middle distance.
In the champion miler group - judged on performances from 1,400m to 1,800m - Able One, Good Ba Ba, Happy Zero, Fellowship and Beauty Flash all had one Group One each.
Perhaps sentiment for Good Ba Ba's third straight Hong Kong Mile will swing votes, but the reality is he won only that race, while the other contenders were multiple winners. On paper, Able One was the most successful, winning the Group One Champions Mile, an international event, the Group Two Chairman's Trophy and the Group Three Premier Cup, though the public perception of him has never placed John Moore's gelding on the same reputation plane as some of his rivals.
Then there's the champion middle distance group of Collection, the reigning Horse Of The Year, Viva Pataca and Super Satin.
For all his towering reputation, the reality is that Collection won just two domestic races - the International Cup Trial at Group Two level and the Hong Kong Gold Cup, a Group One. Perhaps his performance in defeat at the hands of Vision D'Etat on international day was one of his best, but will that be good enough to carry the day?
The Queen Elizabeth II Cup was the race that threw this category into confusion, with Collection's controversial sixth seeing him finish behind Viva Pataca, the winner, and third-placed Super Satin.
Super Satin enjoyed a vintage season, with five wins, albeit mostly in lesser grades, before taking the Derby as his Group One win.
The old warhorse, Viva Pataca, had only the one victory but it was one that carried plenty of weight by making him the only international winner of the three.
There is a case for all three, muddied in each direction by the scarcity of victory for Collection and Viva Pataca, and for Super Satin the lack of a top-grade, open-age victory - even the Derby restricted to four-year-olds lines up on ratings every year looking more Class One than Group One.
We'll leave that decision to the judges.