Picture: 123RF/ MELORYS
Picture: 123RF/ MELORYS

When it was announced on Tuesday night that Rainbow Bridge had won the Equus horse-of-the-year title for the 2020/21 season, owners Mike and Norma Rattray would have raised their glasses to their grand campaigner.        

The Rattrays are, first and foremost, animal lovers and their lifelong efforts have been rewarded.

Mike Rattray’s father gave his son a horse at the age of three and his association with thoroughbreds progressed to him becoming a Springbok polo player.

The couple’s devotion to animals in the wild became apparent a few years back when, prior to an international jockeys’ challenge in Johannesburg, Mike Rattray hosted Frankie Dettori, Mick Kinane and this writer at Mala Mala. A considerable amount of champagne was consumed by the world’s best-known jockey!

While not wanting to be a “party pooper” regarding Rainbow Bridge’s award, it is in strict contrast to a poll published on Monday by Sporting Post. This gave War Of Athena 43% of the vote, Kommetdieding 37% and Rainbow Bridge only 6%.

Now, regular visitors to the website are racing boffins. They know their oats. Yes, they will have differing opinions on whatever is in the news, but the bottom line is that these are sensible ladies and gents expressing their personal views.

Among the many posts on the awards, perhaps two by Greg Clarke in Sporting Post are right on the money.

Last week he said: “Whilst War Of Athena is undoubtedly the standout on performance and should win on just about every scorecard and get the Three Year Old Filly award, a sympathy nod will be given to Rainbow Bridge who, make no mistake, is a racehorse of the highest order.”

Then, after the awards were announced, Clarke posted: “Whilst I have the utmost respect for the judges panel and Rainbow Bridge is a great racehorse, I would give a penny to hear why the judges looked past War Of Athena for horse-of-the-year. Notwithstanding Rainbow Bridge’s magnificence, it’s a decision that is difficult to figure out and probably should not be interrogated. What is done is done and best left to be.”

Many, including this column, will feel clarity is needed. The Racing Association should divulge the horse each panel judge voted for. Surely it can’t have been a unanimous decision.

When announcing the result of their poll, Sporting Post asked: “Did our readers vote with their hearts or their heads?” That question should be directed at the Equus panel.

Another post said: “My thinking may be a bit simplistic, but a top older horse winning the Met and Gold Challenge is a great achievement but not an unusual or unexpected one. A three-year-old winning the Queen’s Plate and Champions Cup is a rare achievement and should have been recognised.”

When Jet Dark was named champion three-year-old colt, it sent the chances of Kommetdieding, Linebacker and Malmoos winning the top award out of the window. Many will then have seen it as a two-horse affair between Jet Dark and War Of Athena.

The judges appear to have regarded Rainbow Bridge’s poor Durban July run (eighth of 18 and beaten by five lengths by Kommetdieding) as an “off day”. Of course, the pity is we didn’t get our own King George in the Champions Cup where three-year-olds are tested against their older rivals.

As far as War Of Athena is concerned, connections must have felt like an owner whose horse is in front 100m from the line in the Derby only to get snared in the final stride. Still, no question she was the punters’ darling throughout the season.

And what of poor Linebacker? Vaughan Marshall’s three-year-old hardly put a hoof wrong all season and a case could be made for him for the middle-distance award.

Following Durban July seconds with Celtic Grove (2001) and Yard-Arm (2003), it is understandable that Mike Rattray’s goal was to win the July. It is not going to happen with Rainbow Bridge but both he — and the late Chris Gerber, who purchased the horse as a yearling — would be proud indeed of a horse-of-the-year award. The son of Ideal World has raced in the colours of two outstanding gentlemen.

Vaal selections

1st Race: (10) Wings Of Nike (8) Smelting (1) Freedom Dancer (4) Frontline Fighter.

2nd Race: (5) Lady Calavera (2) Mamaquera (6) Evening Rise (1) Pin Up.

3rd Race: (2) Blonde Act (1) Flinders Range (9) Tullamore Dew (8) Triple Decker.

4th Race: (6) Indigo Winter (3) Country Flame (2) Gilda Gray (1) Red Hot.

5th Race: (1) Manterio (2) Understated (7) Run For The Sun (6) Wishonaire.

6th Race: (1) Fast Draw (3) Kissed By Fire (5) Oceans Pride (4) The Bomb Dotcom.

7th Race: (7) Leading Lad (3) Royal Escapade (6) Twin Turbo (2) Apollo Robbins.

8th Race: (8) Midnight Gem (4) Space Race (1) Blue Eyes (7) Country Mile.

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