When future generations of race fans scroll through the winners of Hong Kong Horse of the Year, the name Rapper Dragon should appear next to 2016-17, it’s as simple as that.
Forget the vagaries of the champion awards voting that disadvantage Rapper Dragon, John Moore’s champion four-year-old deserves a place in the history books.
Rapper Dragon had already worked his way into the hearts of fans with his stunning procession through the four-year-old series, capped with a memorable BMW Hong Kong Derby win.
Now those achievements are frozen in time and we will never get to see just how good Rapper Dragon could have been after the horse’s sad demise in the Group One Champions Mile.
Yet even without the emotion of Sunday’s events, Rapper Dragon meets the true spirit of the Horse of the Year award and should be remembered as such.
The Horse of the Year award has criteria, which we will get to, but they’re open to interpretation and, like so much of what racing is built on, a matter of opinion.
Here’s one take on what Horse of the Year should mean: the horse that defined a season. The horse that first comes to mind when one looks back at the major races and moments of the previous 12 months.
Whatever happens for the remainder of the season, that horse in this season is Rapper Dragon and it would be a travesty if he were not given the top honour.
So what’s stopping Rapper Dragon being named Horse of the Year? Well, there might not be a problem if the judging panel doesn’t mind bending the rules a little bit.
To be a nominee, a horse firstly needs to have won a Group race, which Rapper Dragon did last start in the Group Two Chairman’s Trophy.
So that box is ticked, luckily, as Rapper Dragon’s clean sweep of the four-year-old series doesn’t count for those purposes – the Hong Kong Classic Mile, Hong Kong Classic Cup and BMW Hong Kong Derby are no longer classified as Group races, as of this season.
The sticking point for Rapper Dragon might be the second criterion, that a horse needs to be the winner of a champion horse category – that is, champion sprinter, miler, middle-distance or stayer – to be nominated.
The Group Two mile win isn’t enough on its own for Rapper Dragon to be named champion miler, given the Group One wins on the resume of Helene Paragon (Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup, Stewards’ Cup) and Beauty Only (Hong Kong Mile).
The Champions Mile was billed as the race that would decide Horse of the Year, but the result left us even more confused after Helene Paragon and Beauty Only failed to go on with it and Rapper Dragon suffered his fatal injury.
Champions Mile winner, Contentment could further cloud the voting if he can win the Group One Yasuda Kinen in Tokyo next month.
Still, Rapper Dragon’s death seems to make these debates seem hollow and somewhat insignificant, so here’s another unofficial criteria for the voters: when the result seems obvious, just make it happen. Name Rapper Dragon Horse of the Year, nobody is going to complain.
So here’s how it can work, let’s hope the judging panel can find it in their hearts to make Rapper Dragon champion middle-distance champion, on the strength of his Classic Cup and Derby wins, ahead of Werther, who won a weak edition of the Group One Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup.
That way Rapper Dragon is eligible for Horse of the Year and everybody goes home happy.
We’ve spent a lot of time discussing these award criteria in columns and online over the last few weeks, and some might ask “why does it matter?”
From the Jockey Club’s perspective it matters because the winner’s name goes into sales catalogues around the world. So it would be ironic if Rapper Dragon missed out, given that the black type status of the four-year-old series was lost due to the club’s ambition to be recognised as a top tier racing jurisdiction for stud book purposes.
Then there are the horse’s connections and the most important, and least recognised, stakeholder in the sport, racing’s fans.
Horse of the Year voting should be fair and just, and right now it is not, and it will feel like a stomach punch to Rapper Dragon’s connections and his devoted followers if his name isn’t read out at the awards night in July.