Take the emotion and overwhelming public sentiment out of the ongoing Horse of the Year debate and it makes the decision more difficult, but even then, facts, figures and sound logic still have Rapper Dragon ahead of Werther for the honour.
The decision, to be made by a six-man voting committee made up of three racing executives and three racing journalists in the final week of the season, is a case of “heart versus head” – heart says Rapper Dragon and at least some heads say Werther.
As Hong Kong racing comes of age the decision also looms as a test case for what the Horse of the Year award actually means and where the much-vaunted, but seemingly demoted, BMW Hong Kong Derby stands in the new world pecking order.
Of course, Rapper Dragon’s untimely death in the Champions Mile makes him the emotional “heart” pick for HOTY, he is the best story and clearly the best selection from a public relations standpoint for the Jockey Club.
None of these factors are likely to be brought to the table when the committee meets however, and the decision will be, rightly or wrongly, is set to be strictly based around on-track results.
Under the flawed criteria set out for the Champions Awards, for Rapper Dragon to even be eligible for the main HOTY vote he needs to win the middle distance prize ahead of Werther.
Those ruled by heads and not hearts argue that Werther won a Group One in this category and Rapper Dragon didn’t.
Of course, Rapper Dragon did win the Classic Cup and BMW Hong Kong Derby within the category – races the “Vote Werther” camp now deem to be demoted to restricted class after Hong Kong racing opened up Group races to outsiders, a requirement of moving into the top tier of the studbook.
It’s a flawed argument in a number of ways – the motives for keeping the Derby closed to outsiders is to protect owners’ financial interests, and for good reason.
Like it or not, but the most important race on the domestic calendar, by any measure, is the BMW Hong Kong Derby.
Don’t think so? Try telling it to the owners shelling out millions this week on beaten runners of a handicap at Royal Ascot.
If granting Rapper Dragon HOTY somehow denigrates Hong Kong’s “Blue Book status”, what does giving Werther the award say about the jurisdictions most sought-after race?
The Derby is a closed shop – we get that – but it doesn’t necessarily make it weaker compared to a Group One and this year’s Derby, dominated by Rapper Dragon, looks a stellar group. Derbies are also meant to be breed shaping and always carry more meaning than cold ratings can express.
Even by some metrics – strength of opposition being one – it could even be argued that Rapper Dragon’s Derby was comparable to Werther’s Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup win, a hollow contest that, in all seriousness, can only be considered Group One in name only.
The fact the Gold Cup was open to outsiders is irrelevant given nobody from overseas turned up and a depleted seven-runner field saw Werther only just scrape home ahead of Blazing Speed and Secret Weapon.
The performance earned the reigning Horse of the Year a figure of 118 in the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings, well short of the 124 had John Moore’s horse ranked in the top ten horses in the world in 2016. On figures, even if the handicapper felt Rapper Dragon’s Derby win was superior, four-year-olds are never given a high mark for their triumph – that comes when they step out against older opposition.
The tragedy of Rapper Dragon’s career is that he never got that chance, breaking down in what was meant to be his coronation in the Group One Champions Mile, a race where he started 1.4 favourite having already trounced older horses at Group Two level at his previous start.
Of course, after the Gold Cup, Werther added the Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup, a race that comes with the annual bonus of champion stayer.
So even if Rapper Dragon is champion middle distance award winner, he then has to beat his stablemate for the overall honour.
If the logic presented from the Werther camp is that his two Group Ones outstrip Rapper Dragon’s none, shouldn’t a third Moore-trained charge, Helene Paragon, be more seriously considered?
Helene Paragon, a clear winner of champion miler, won two Group Ones – the Stewards’ Cup and Queens Silver Jubilee Cup – that were far more competitive than Werther’s two top level triumphs.
The rankings back it up, Helene Paragon’s each earned a 119, equal to Beauty Only’s Hong Kong Mile and Neoealism’s QE II Cup numbers.
When it comes down to the actual award though – let’s revisit the opening line: “Take the emotion and overwhelming public sentiment out” and then ask this – why would you want to do that?
Voting for most popular horse of the year says it all - with five days remaining, Rapper Dragon sits at just over 55 per cent of the vote, to Pakistan Star at around 15, with Werther third on 11 per cent.
Horse of the Year isn’t a popularity contest, but those numbers are an indication of just how many racing fans will feel alienated if Werther wins the award.
With Beauty Only & Contentment unplaced in Tokyo on Sunday, all of the G1s have been run, so who is 2016-17 horse of the year? #HKracing— Michael Cox (@KemblaCoxy) June 4, 2017
For owners it would be a clear statement that spending crazy money on Derby horses is pure folly, that the Derby has lost relevance in the club’s eyes, when in reality the race remains at the top of the priorities. That’s why the protective measures were put in place this year, the club actually set out to preserve the race’s unique importance and while it meant the Derby is no longer a Group One in name, it certainly is in spirit.
What the award actually means, let alone the winner, is a purely subjective matter. Is it the best horse? Is it the horse that achieved the most? Horse of the Year is in the eye of the beholder, and now in the hands of a committee, led by chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges , who holds the casting vote.
In this case the answer to all of the aforementioned questions is the same; Rapper Dragon, he was the best horse in a history-making season, achieving what no horse had before with a clean sweep of the four-year-old series.
Regardless of what happens, and whether Werther beats him for the award or not, Rapper Dragon will always be remembered by most as the rightful Horse of the Year.