THE 2006 Highveld Feature Season Awards will be presented next Monday and it will come as a huge surprise if feisty grey mare Ilha da Vitoria does not scoop the Horse of the Season trophy. She is also likely to be named Champion Older Filly/Mare, although hugely popular Jamaica and Fair Maiden have also been nominated in that category.
Brazilian-bred Ilha da Vitoria is the country`s leading stakes earner following victory in the inaugural Gommagomma Challenge that offered a R1,8 million purse to the winner. That was Ilha da Vitoria`s final racecourse appearance – she has been retired to owner Mary Slack’s Wilgerbosdrift Stud – and was a storybook finale to a distinguished racing career.
Going into the 2005-06 racing season on 1 August 2005, Ilha da Vitoria had won six races and had developed a reputation as something of a “bridesmaid” due to eight close second placings. On turning five, she also turned a corner and in her seasonal debut trounced another top-class import Overarching in the Ipi Tombe Stakes over 1600m on the inside track at Turffontein. Less than a month later she finished third behind Western Prospect in the Elevation Stakes at Newmarket in her preparatory run for the Summer Cup late in November.
Drawn 17 of 18 runners, she was stone last cornering, but picked off her opposition one by one to lead well before the finish and win going away by five lengths. Pundits attributed that win to a slow and erratic pace, but “Ilha” proved subsequently that was no flash in the pan. She travelled to the Cape for the summer and competed twice – running on slightly too late when beaten 1,50 lengths by Bad Girl Runs in the Paddock Stakes and then going down by just a length to Zebra Crossing, who had 3kg less to carry in the J&B Met.
Back on home ground, she proceeded to win the Horse Chestnut Stakes as she liked and then toyed with her opposition in the Challenge. She would be a worthy winner of both titles!
Jamaica, another favourite among racegoers, will have many supporters as a major contender for the Champion Older Filly/Mare award. The imposing chestnut started the season flying with an impressive victory in the November Handicap and has barely put a hoof wrong subsequently, also winning the Rolands Song Stakes before finishing second to Fair Maiden and then Ilha da Vitoria in the Empress Club Stakes and Gommagomma Challenge respectively.
The nominees for the other awards are:
CHAMPION TWO YEAR OLD FILLY: Asylum Seeker; Ethics; Evening Attire
CHAMPION TWO YEAR OLD COLT/GELDING: Rebel King; Procurer; Sovereign Circle
CHAMPION THREE YEAR OLD FILLY: Candy Critic; National Colour; Rememberance; Zaitoon
CHAMPION THREE YEAR OLD COLT/GELDING: Elusive Fort; Hunting Tower
CHAMPION OLDER FILLY/MARE: Fair Maiden; Ilha da Vitoria; Jamaica
CHAMPION OLDER COLT/HORSE/GELDING: Bishops Rock (Aus); Equal Image; National Spirit; Western Prospect
CHAMPION SPRINTER: National Colour; Vega
CHAMPION STAYER: Candy Critic; Elusive Fort; Eurovision
Other awards to be presented at the function, to be held in the Aquanaut Room at Turffontein next Monday, include Champion Jockey, Champion Trainer, Champion Breeder, Champion Owner and a few other special awards.