This has been a great year for racing, but also, a great year for racing’s stories; One where we had the first Triple Crown in 37 years, comebacks from humans and horses alike, a renaissance for one of the sport’s most famous jockeys, and the first female winner of a Grade 1 race in Britain. With that in mind, recognition is needed for some of the tremendous performances the last year has given us. I give you, the Keejays, a personal awards designed to shine a light upon some of the best moments of the past 12 months.
Sir AP McCoy Award for Ride of the Year: Too many places to look, but perhaps the ride that was of most emotional significance was also the best. AP McCoy’s final festival had threatened to one of disappointment going into the Thursday, with fewer and fewer chances coming his way to seal his sign off in style, but the 20 time Champion jockey has never had to do anything the easy way and the way he took the Ryanair Chase by the scruff of the neck on Uxizandre was a sight to behold. In front from the drop of the flag, he was at once seven lengths clear whilst running his rivals ragged early on, and at one point looked to be succumbing to his exertions around the home turns before kicking on once again to fly the last two and leap up the hill to send the Cheltenham crowd into raptures on one of the most memorable days of the jump racing year. The atmosphere afterwards was an experience to behold, with veterans and day trippers alike celebrating the last time we would see one of racing’s great figures walk into the Festival enclosure.
Honorable mentions: Frankie Dettori (Golden Horn, Arc De Triomphe), William Buick (Space Age, King George V Handicap), Harry Bannister (Major Malarkey, Cheltenham Hunters Club Open Chase), George Baker, (Chil The Kite, Clipper Logistics Handicap), Sean Bowen (Just A Par, Bet365 Gold Cup), Gavin Sheehan (Cole Harden, World Hurdle), Aidan Coleman (See The World, Wincanton Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race)
Alberto Salazar Award for Training performance of the year: Heritage Handicaps are notoriously hard to win, as they should be. Taking one with a fit horse is hard enough, not to mention the work that has to go into getting a horse ready. To take one of the season’s most competitive events with a horse making his debut for your yard after a 491 day absence is something special, and Joseph Tuite’s achievement with Litigant has to go down as one of the year’s best training feats. Of for nearly 500 days, he was progressive on the all-weather before his absence and managed to hold off the hardy Wicklow Brave; And then, after disappointing on Champions Day, he bolted up in the November handicap off his revised mark; cup races beckon next year.
Honorable mentions: Dermot Weld (Free Eagle, Prince of Wales’s Stakes), David Pipe (The Package, Kim Muir), Bob Baffert (American Pharaoh), Oliver Sherwood (Many Clouds, Grand National)
Performance of the Year: A limitless list of performances from here, there and everywhere. On the flat and the jumps, around the world, there have been jaw dropping and spellbinding performances and this award could have gone anywhere. But the pure brilliance of yes – him again – Vautour’s JLT performance in trashing a well up to standard field in the JLT by 15 lengths left punters in raptures, onlookers amazed and the markets for the Gold Cup turned upside down; Rarely can even Ruby Walsh have been left so animated after a Festival winner.
Honorable mentions: Golden Horn (Coral-Eclipse, Arc), Legatissimo (Matron Stakes), Treve (Prix Vermille), American Pharaoh (Breeders’ Cup Classic), Muharaar (British Champions Day Sprint), Minding (Fillies’ Mile), Beholder (TVG Pacific Classic), Mecca’s Angel (Nunthorpe), Air Force Blue (Dewhurst), Coneygree (Gold Cup), Cue Card (Betfair Chase), Thistlecrack (Long Walk Hurdle), Many Clouds (Grand National), Djakadam (John Durkan Chase), Runhappy (Breeders’ Cup Sprint), Songbird (Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies), Nichols Canyon (Mersey Novices Hurdle)
The Kauto Star Award for Horse of the Year: A list as long as your arm here but American Pharaoh, in creating history by taking the first Triple Crown for 36 years, bridged that divide between America’s racing and general public that has so often grown for all the wrong reasons when he sprinted into our hearts at the Belmont Stakes. The adulation, hype, and pizazz that surrounded him was wonderfully managed by Baffert and Team Zayat, but in the heat of the moment it is easy to forget that a horse who was out on his feet in the Travers Stakes bounced back to take the Breeders’ Cup classic, all in a season where he’d started before the Cheltenham Festival.
Honourable Mentions: Golden Horn, Legatissimo, Treve, American Pharaoh, Muharaar, Minding, Beholder, Air Force Blue, Coneygree, Cue Card, Thistlecrack, Many Clouds, Djakadam, Runhappy, Songbird, Mecca’s Angel
The Tim Peak Award for Rocket Jump of the year: A good few contenders for this award, but the fleeting Vautour was truly magnificent over three out in the JLT on his way to one of the best performances seen at the Festival in recent years. In truth, it could have gone to any of his leaps, but in taking the rest of the field off the bridle in one moment, he takes the prize.
Honorable mentions: Un De Sceaux (Irish Arkle Chase, Last Fence)
The Ed Whittaker Award for Photo Of The Year: Many cracking contenders, including Patrick McCann who broke a leg for his troubles, but Francesca Altoft’s work has rightly drawn a considerable amount of new followers and this picture of Tom Cannon’s dramatic unseat was the standout of many great shots that she took.
Honorable Mentions: Michael Harris (Neptune Novice Hurdle), Jackie Kingdom (2016), Patrick McCann (Cross Country Handicap Chase)
The Dave Nevison Award for Unsung Hero of the Year: Lots of contenders in a year with several great stories but we would be racing without the stable staff that keep the game going day in day out. Early mornings, late nights, travel overseas, some for salaries that would make many workers shudder, not to forget the emotional highs and lows that take place through a racing year. Every single member of a yard deserves credit each and every day, and it would take a special job to pip them to the post. And that’s what the team at the University of Liverpool’s Philip Leverhulme Equine Hospital did when nursing the legendary Balthazar King from four broken ribs after his fall in the Grand National. The skill and dedication of the team, led by Dr Ellen Singer, senior lecturer in equine orthopaedics, was much heralded in the summer, but should not be forgotten even now.
Honourable Mentions: Stable staff, stall handlers, Steve Ayres (Lad to Balder Success, Yanworth)
The Lazarus Award for Comeback of the Year: It was an ordinary looking fall, if not a bad one, that saw Solway Dandy fling Brian Toomey into the turf at Perth; Nobody could have imagined the journey he’d have to take before he was jocked up once again, a 703 day journey through life and death before he eventually pulled up on Kings Grey, the 1-3 favourite in a Southwell Selling Novice Hurdle. It was a journey that showed the resilience of not only jockeys, but the human spirit with it and it’s to be hoped that his link with David Pipe brings success in 2016.
Honourable Mentions: Sprinter Sacre, Sire De Grugy, First Lieutenant
J.K Rowling Award for novel of the Year: Racing is blessed with a lot of fine books and writers, but precious few can join Alistair Down in our affections, and to see his best work in Cheltenham et Al: The Best Of Alastair Down, was a true joy to behold.
Scat Daddy Award for Promising Young Sire: Many young sires left their mark on the current year, but Zoffany left his mark at the meeting where every breeders wants their sire to most with three winners at Royal Ascot and five pattern places horses at the end of the season.
Honorable Mentions: Dream Ahead, Canford Cliffs
The King Henry VII Award for Sire of the year: At the time of writing Cape Cross, who has produced two Arc winners in the last decade, has a 47% strike rate and had 47 yearlings sell for an average price of just under 80,000gns, stands for £20,000. However, no horse in several seasons has gotten as close to taking Galieo’s Champion Sire title as Dubawi has and he takes the award after a stellar year.
Honourable Mentions: Cape Cross, Gallieo, Zoffany
Broadcast Reporter of the Year, presented by Ryan Moore: A good year on the racing front with a good level of coverage when broadcasters focused on the track, but Lydia Hislop was standout Across all areas, from on the spot analysis to presentation – often forming a fine double act with Steve Mellish – and also her in depth interviews, which included Rich Ricci and Nick Rust amongst others.
Honorable Mentions: David Cleary (Racing UK), Steve Mellish (Racing UK), Oli Bell (Racing UK), Nick Luck (Channel 4), Matt Chapman (ATR), Emmet Kennedy (The Final Furlong)
The Michael Owen Award For Analyst of the Year: Opinion is polarized in this category and always will be, but David Cleary was consistently clear, charming, and incisive in everything that he wrote and said in numerous appearances on Racing UK and also when writing The Last Word for Timeform, landing many big punts along the way too.
Honourable Mentions: Steve Mellish, Dan Barber, Jamie Lynch, Jonny Ward, Ron Wood, Calum Madell, Luke Elder, Adam Webb
The Katie Hopkins Award for Best column of the Year: Strong competition from all quarters here, but Lydia Hislop’s Road To Cheltenham has become essential reading in a time where many people’s racing year revolves around those four days in March. Filled full of analyses that can enlighten for any horse in any race, it is a deserving winner.
Honourable Mentions: Lee Mottershead, Tom Kerr, Kevin Blake, Steve Haskin, Andrew Hawkins, Julian Muscat
The Best Feature Piece of the Year: There were a range of contenders that were out of the obvious here, with The New York but Peter Thomas’s interview with Brian Toomey delves into one of the most remarkable racing stories of the year and is well worthy of anyone’s time.
Inspector Gadget Award for best use of technology in racing: Racing is lacking in this department in the UK, with sectionals still not widespread whilst they are used in the equivalent of sellers and claimers elsewhere. There are rays of light, however, and Channel 4’s jockeycam bought fantastic insight into both flat and jump races especially, and also the human side of the sport, which is often overlooked.
Honourable Mentions: Trakus, The At The Races iPhone App, Lingfield’s Photo Finish System
The Bob Champion and Aldanti Award for Determination in the name of Charitable Causes: Take a bow Jack Lander, who has walked further in a summer than some people will in a lifetime in support of the Injured Jockeys’ Fund.
The Wacky Races Award For Funniest Contest of the year: Only two contenders. The mess that the Betfred Hurdle became, where Bobs Worth, bless his cotton socks, found himself able to repel Simonsig, but for pure rib-breaking comedy value, the Racing Post Trophy must win this award. Foundation’s cursed run through the legions of Ballydoyle horses to which he was clearly superior brought a tear to the eyes of yours truly hundreds of miles away at Cheltenham.
Honorable Mention: Betfred Hurdle (Aintree, 7th November)
Richard Dawkins award for devout belief in one scientific theory: Racing has plenty of systems, but the team of leading phD mathematicians have put together a sophisticated algorithm to beat the system and win at roulette, the 49s and virtual racing have been much underrated through the year and deserve our adulation and support. Here’s to @49stipster.
The Tyson Fury award for most aggressive tweeter of the year: Another difficult selection process but the venom in @The_HorseGuru was truly vicious and fantastically entertaining. Here’s to more fights in 2016.
Honourable Mentions: @TWEnclosure, @ifandbutwhynot, @LeeAMurray, @RobYetman
The James Blunt Award for Tweeter of the Year: Many outstanding contenders here, including journalists, bloggers, friends, and even organisations. However, Robert Yetman fought the good fight against evil on all grounds, bravely refusing to stand down in the face of cruel belittlement to take the fight to corrupt stewards, twitter trolls, and ISIS as well. His takedown of the corruption of British Stewards was breathtaking and is to be admired; If only our Politicians had as much stomach as him we’d be in a better place.
NASA Award for Acronym of the year, Sponsored by @seandw14: There were a whole host of contenders, all of them coming from the Malcolm Tucker of Twitter – @seandw14 – but it’s hard not to give an award for anything literally named MTB, which was well, MTB.
Honourable Mentions: HKIR, HUTH, PBUH
The Buzzfeed Award for Equality and Inclusion in racing: Racing is a sport where everyone should feel comfortable, but Horse Racing Ireland deserve great credit for allowing Cows to run in nearly all Irish Novice Hurdles and Chases of any kind. Truly, as we enter 2016, we can take a lead from their cross country neighbours.
Donald Trump award for most offensive campaign of the year: Plenty of flat fans found much ire with the away Ballydoyle campaigned the filly of the same name, but the comical misdirection that connections of Sgt Reckless showed when sending their novice chaser to the Christmas Hurdle and an AW flat maiden instead of getting the crucial experience over fences that he would surely have benefited to greatly from before being well beaten in the Arkle has no equal.