Racing: Close tussle for horse-of-year title

By Michael Guerin

Xtravagant will face plenty of opposition from Australian winners Sofia Rosa, Tavago and Provocative for the three-year-old title. Photo / Nick Reed
Xtravagant will face plenty of opposition from Australian winners Sofia Rosa, Tavago and Provocative for the three-year-old title. Photo / Nick Reed

Can you win Horse of the Year after winning just one race?

The answer might be yes, especially if that race is the Caulfield Cup.

That will be one of the key questions answered at the thoroughbred industry's glamour night of the year at the Langham Hotel in Auckland tomorrow night.

While many awards' nights in all three racing codes are dogged by the winners being all too obvious, that won't be the case this year.

Many of the major equine awards are very much in dispute, none more so than the overall Horse of the Year.

Reigning champion Mongolian Khan would have seemed a near certainty when he won the Caulfield Cup in October but fate robbed him of his Melbourne Cup shot and he never ran a placing in his Sydney campaign.

So while he was a brave placegetter in the Underwood and Caulfield Stakes, if the now retired stallion is going to defend his title he is going to do so primarily off the back of one victory.

Other possible contenders for the top title didn't take long to emerge either, with Mongolian Khan's stablemate Turn Me Loose winning the group one Emirates Stakes and a group two just weeks after the Caulfield Cup, which he backed up in February in the group one Futurity.

At home, Xtravagant began his ascension at the same time in the 2000 Guineas, which rivalled his NRM Sprint over the older horses for the domestic performance of the season.

However, before any horse can win the overall title they must win one of the divisions, with Mongolian Khan looking to have the easiest path as he should be a lock for the stayer of the year title.

Turn Me Loose and Xtravagant are both finalists in two other categories, Turn Me Loose in the middle-distance category, while they both clash with Ryan Mark in the sprint division.

Xtravagant's other nomination comes in the star-studded three-year-old of the year, where any one of the eight finalists would be an appropriate winner most seasons.

The local form of Fanatic, Rangipo, Valley Girl and, of course, Xtravagant goes up against the Australian classic wins by Sofia Rosa, Tavago and Provocative, with NZ 1000 Guineas winner Risque having winning form in both countries.

While having eight finalist for any award seems a bit grandiose, it is hard to argue any of them don't deserve to be there.

Provocative's stablemate Sacred Elixir added some spice to the two-year-old voting with his JJ Atkins Stakes, putting him in the frame against local group one winners Heroic Valour, Luna Rossa and Karaka Million hero Xiong Feng.

Trainer of the year boasts incredible depth, with Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman up against premiership winners Stephen Autridge and Jamie Richards and the group one strike rate of Tony Pike.

The same applies in the jockey award, where Lisa Allpress and Matt Cameron clash with Danielle Johnson, Michael Coleman and the huge transtasman success of Opie Bosson.

Savabeel will clean sweep the stallion awards, capturing the Grosvenor, Centaine and Dewar trophies.

- NZ Herald

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