When Christophe Soumillon takes Viva Pataca on to the track next Sunday for the Group One Champions & Chater Cup, there will be a lot more at stake than the $4.5 million first prize. In the wake of one of the most even, competitive seasons in years - the 13 Group One races have been won by 13 different horses - victory in the season's final Group One may also equate to Horse of the Year honours. The following Sunday in Tokyo, Bullish Luck and Joyful Winner will try to boost their claims by beating the Japanese on home soil in the Yasuda Kinen. Each has won one Group One this term, with Joyful Winner having taken the Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup and Bullish Luck the Champions Mile. They say an overseas victory does not count for Horse of the Year, but try convincing the voters themselves of that. Vengeance Of Rain has the disadvantage of time to overcome in his bid to convince the judges that he is the worthy Horse of the Year. He won the International Cup Trial (Group Two) in November and the $18 million Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup on December 11. Taking the Cup, in the wake of a brilliant Anthony Delpech ride, gave Hong Kong enormous international prestige because it also secured him the title of 2005 world racing champion. Vengeance Of Rain had health problems in the early spring and was ultimately sent to New Zealand for some R&R at Sir Patrick Hogan's Cambridge Stud Farm. Natural Blitz also did his adopted city proud in December, leading home an all-Hong Kong charge in the Cathay Pacific International Sprint. However, it was the Maroof gelding's only victory for the year and despite the fact he is a candidate for today's Sha Tin Vase over 1,200 metres with topweight of 133 pounds, it's a statistic that is unlikely to change. For the past three seasons, the three legs of the sprinters' triple crown have been won by the same horse - Grand Delight (2003) and Silent Witness (2004, 2005). In each of those seasons, they have taken the votes for Champion Sprinter and Horse of the Year as well. This season, the legs have been won by three different animals - Scintillation (Centenary Sprint Cup), Billet Express (Chairman's Sprint Trophy) and Joyful Winner (Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup). Bullish Luck and Super Kid are the evergreens of the season. For each of them, this is their third year of performing at racing's highest level, with Super Kid having the better of Bullish Luck in the Hong Kong Gold Cup and Bullish Luck finally rediscovering his lethal finishing sprint in the Champions Mile. But once again, none of them has put his stamp on the season in a way that absolutely demands Horse of the Year votes. Viva Pataca looked awesome in the Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby. Trainer John Moore avoided the traditional path with Stanley Ho Hung-sun's gelding and brought him through the class system, educating and seasoning him along the way. By the time Derby day came around, Viva Pataca was the ready-made product and Moore was able to sit back and give himself and his team due recognition for a job well done. However, a subsequent 41/2 length defeat in the Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup, at the hands of visiting South African filly Irridescence, served to wash away any aura of invincibility that surrounded Viva Pataca. He is now back with the others, mere mortal equines on fairly level terms. But victory in the Champions & Chater will change all that. He will have emulated Vengeance Of Rain's performance in 2005 in taking the Derby and the Chater, though it should be pointed out Vengeance added the QEII as the middle-pin of a history-making treble in 2005. Vengeance Of Rain would have been Horse of the Year in most other years, but had the misfortune to compete in the same period as the incomparable Silent Witness at the peak of his powers.