Last year’s title holder, Werther saved the judging panel for this year’s Champions Awards from embarrassment as the assessors bowed to popular opinion and Rapper Dragon was posthumously named the 2017 Horse of the Year.
It was a seventh Horse of the Year for trainer John Moore, the past five titles in succession with different horses – Military Attack, Designs On Rome, Able Friend, Werther and now Rapper Dragon.
In an unusually controversial edition of the season’s awards for high equine achievement, Derby hero Rapper Dragon was the sentimental favourite after breaking down during, and losing his life after, the Champions Mile in May, and that was confirmed by him winning a public vote for Most Popular Horse of the season.
“I think it was the right choice, not just the sentimental choice, because Rapper Dragon did achieve something which had never been done before in winning the Triple Crown,” said Moore. “Unfortunately we won’t have him going to next season, and that’s a shame because he was a special horse but we have to celebrate what he did.”
This season, due to Hong Kong’s elevation to Part I of the Blue Book, which is important for breeding classifications, the Derby and the other four-year-old races lost even domestic Group One status and Rapper Dragon becomes only the third Horse of the Year winner in almost 40 years of the title to take the accolade without an open Group One victory.
In 1993, Helene Star collected the title with a Derby win his best, but a short-head second in the international Hong Kong Bowl also supported his case, while 1997 winner Privilege had two international level placings to back his award.
Werther’s Champions & Chater Cup win gave him the Champion Stayer category, enabling the selection panel to escape embarrassment, as he must otherwise have surely have been the Champion Middle Distance horse for his Gold Cup win.
Under the awards rules, the Horse of the Year must have won one of the categories so, with Werther as Champion Stayer, the selection panel felt able to name Rapper Dragon Champion Middle Distance horse, despite his only Group win being the Group Two Chairman’s Trophy over 1,600m in April.
Rapper Dragon’s announcement as Horse of the Year was not the only award to raise eyebrows, as the Tony Cruz-trained Beauty Only landed the Champion Miler title for his Hong Kong Mile victory, despite Moore’s Helene Paragon winning two Group Ones within the category.
Aerovelocity’s second Hong Kong Sprint victory in December was enough to secure the Paul O’Sullivan-trained gelding his second Champion Sprinter award in a season when there was no dual Group One winner in the category.
Three-year-old Premiere won trainer John Size the minor Champion Griffin award for a fifth time, while recently retired champions Able Friend and Aerovelocity both received a special award for their lifetime achievements but there was no such acknowledgment of another recent retiree, Designs On Rome, a four-time Champion Award winner, who was named both Horse of the Year and Most Popular Horse in 2014.
Champion Griffin – Premiere
Most Popular Horse – Rapper Dragon
Champion Stayer – Werther
Champion Sprinter – Aerovelocity
Champion Miler – Beauty Only
Champion Middle-Distance – Rapper Dragon
Horse of the Year – Rapper Dragon