Picture: 123RF/CHRIS VAN LENNEP
Picture: 123RF/CHRIS VAN LENNEP

The decision will go somewhere to placate racing fans who believe War Of Athena should have won the Equus Horse of the Year award in August — the eight-time winning filly has been voted Highveld Horse of the Season.

The debate on whether Rainbow Bridge deserved to win the Equus award has been raging on social media and in the press for the past three weeks.

Perhaps connections of War Of Athena, who will receive their trophy at Turffontein on Saturday, will view the highveld award as some consolation. They would have been confident of taking the Equus award when a poll published on the eve of the awards showed their filly had garnered 45% of the vote.

This is the second year running that a three-year-old filly has captured the hearts of Gauteng racing fans. Twelve months ago it was Summer Pudding who this year won highveld’s champion middle-distance category.

Randjesfontein trainer Paul Matchett must take much of the credit for War Of Athena’s outstanding campaign. Many moons ago legendary UK trainer Noel Murless was asked by a reporter what was the most difficult part of his job. He replied: “Keeping a three-year-old filly on the boil for a length of time.”

War Of Athena ran 11 times during the 2020/2021 campaign, winning eight of her 11 starts. S’manga Khumalo rode her to a win at Turffontein in early August, but Muzi Yeni took over the reins in the Ipi Tombe in November and retained the ride thereafter.

The Triple Tiara triumph followed this year by victory in the Woolavington 2000, and her narrow defeat by Zarina in the Garden Province Stakes. By that time the toll of the many races and travelling had probably taken their toll.

Simply magnificent

One report suggested War Of Athena was “SA’s Makybe Diva” — sorry that is getting ahead of oneself as the mighty Aussie mare won three Melbourne Cups. This writer was lucky enough to be at Flemington in 2005 — it was a performance that few who were there will ever forget.

Later that evening, an Aussie punter who had backed against the favourite put it well by saying: “It would be a cold punter who has no affection for her — she is simply magnificent.”

Paul Peter enjoyed his best season as a trainer and fully deserves his award as Gauteng Champion Trainer and Khumalo, riding as well as at any time in his career, took the champion jockey award.

The other deserving winners were Got The Greenlight (Champion Older Horse), Malmoos (Champion Three-Year Old Colt/Gelding), Rio Querari (Champion Sprinter) and African Adventure (Stayer Of The Year).

Chris van Niekerk, who missed out on the Equus Champion Owner award because sales races were not included, won another highveld champion owner title to add another trophy to the many in his cabinet.

Summerhill Stud lost out to Klawervlei for the Equus Champion Breeder award, but, like War Of Athena, they won the Gauteng award after another notable campaign.

Highveld Awards winners:

Horse of the Season: War Of AthenaChampion.

Older Horse: Got TheGreenlight.

Champion Middle Distance: Summer Pudding.

Champion Sprinter: Rio QuerariChampion.

Three-Year Old Colt: Malmoos.

Champion Three-Year Old Filly: War Of Athena.

Champion Stayer: African Adventure.

Champion Two-Year Old Colt: Smorgasbord.

Champion Two-Year Old Filly: Sheela.

Champion Owner: Chris van Niekerk.

Champion Breeder: Summerhill Stud.

Champion Work Rider: Joe Gwingwizha.

Champion Groom: Jack Landile.

VAAL SELECTIONS

First race: (6) Scottadito (1) Pick A Lily (3) Time Request (5) Puff Of Smoke

Second race: (2) Frontline Fighter (8) Thai Treat (5) Arverni Warrior (1) Emerald Flame

Third race: (1) Lulu’s Boy (2) Freezing Fast (3) Master Of Law (4) Twosidestoastory

Fourth race: (6) Red Hot (3) Sky View (1) The Bomb Dot Com (12) Kiawah

Fifth race: (7) Irfaans Boy (1) Kwite A Trip (2) Singfonico (8) Warrior Captain

Sixth race: (3) Manterio (2) Smiley River (1) Orus Apollo (4) Rainy Season

Seventh race: (3) Ancestral Prayer (1) Southern Song (4) Opera Glass (7) Un Deux Trois

Eighth race: (2) Crusade To Royalty (1) Western Dance (3) Mariposa (4) Wedding Bliss

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