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2021/22 Australia Racing Awards

Updated: Aug 27, 2022

The 2021/22 Racing Season in Australia was most certainly eventful, with some incredibly strong performances from up and comers as well as some established veterans. The Couch Critic will be rating the best horses, jockeys and trainers in what was most certainly an enjoyable season of racing.

The criteria for horses is that they are nominated over which distance they proved the most dominant but once sorted, all of their achievements are taken into account across all distances. 3yos and 2yos are only compared against their own ages. Also, I consider the Everest, All-Star Mile and Golden Eagle as Group 1s for this exercise.

Best Sprinter of the Season (1000-1400m)

Nominations: Eduardo, Marabi, Nature Strip

Eduardo (8yoG). Record: 5=3-1-1 (0 Group 1s) Eduardo has proved to be the only horse that can beat Nature Strip on a consistent basis, defeating him in the G2 Shorts and G2 Challenge Stakes. He also won the Winners (Classique Legend) Stakes in incredibly dominant fashion. He also was 0.5L off Nature Strip in The Everest and Second in the TJ Smith. The only race he failed to fire in was the Lightning Stakes.

Marabi: (5yoM). Record: 5=4-0-0 (1 Group 1)

She proved to be the sprinting equivalent of Incentivise. After going 3/3 to start her career with impressive margins and times, she kicked off her campaign by winning a Ballarat BM70 by 7 Lengths which could have been more. She then won a LR and a G2 at her 5th and 6th starts, the Australia Stakes being her most impressive to date. She won the G1 Oakleigh Plate pretty easily but unfortunately flopped in the William Reid where she ran below par but that was likely due to having a 5 month prep as only her second prep.

Nature Strip (7yoG). Record: 8=5-2-1 (4 Group 1s)

While I'd argue the competition has not been the same as previous seasons, Nature Strip most definitely put together his most dominant season. While he still proved vulnerable to Eduardo off a 2 week break, he essentially did not lose all prep. The Everest was the making of him as a champion, demonstrating he does not have to dictate a race to still win. He won the VRC in very easy fashion and then was incredibly unlucky to not win the Lightning, after faltering the start, being sandwiched and then having Profiteer cross him in what was the single best non winning performance of the year. He then put them away in easy fashion in the TJ before travelling overseas and proving to the world what we already knew, not only is he the worlds best sprinter but he is the worlds best horse.

Verdict: Nature Strip and it is not close.

Best Middler of the Season (1400-2000m)

Nominations: I'm Thunderstruck, Think It Over, Zaaki

I'm Thunderstruck (4yoG). Record: 8=2-2-1 (2 Group 1s)

After a promising winter campaign (and a win 1 day before the season started), I'm Thunderstruck managed to sneak into the Rupert Clarke field where he was poorly rated to his rating and was incredibly unlucky not to win, copping a check at the top of the straight when building momentum. He then won the Toorak and Golden Eagle delivering on the hype. Mick Price then sent him underdone to the CF Orr and Futurity as fitness runs, where he then proceeded to run second in both the All-Star and Doncaster Miles respectively. They then backed him up into the Queen Elizabeth where he flopped which was a mistake in hindsight.

Think It Over (6yoG). Record: 11-6-1-1 (1 Group 1)

In the spring he proved to be an ATM for punters at the level below group 1 winning 4/4 of his attempts. He was a little unlucky in the Winx Stakes however, being held up at a crucial time and lost to Verry Elleegant in the George Main Stakes where he probably was not suited to the ground. In the Autumn, it looked to be more of the same, winning the Apollo at G2 level, but was beat at his next 3 attempts at group 1 level. That changed the next start in the Queen Elizabeth where a terrific ride from Nash managed to get him to prove the group 1 and Heavy track doubts wrong and he powered past Zaaki to take it out.

Zaaki (7yoG). Record: 9-5-2-2 (3 Group 1s)

After a dominant Queensland prep, Zaaki was seen as a future WFA Star and it started on a promising trajectory winning the Tramway and Underwood Stakes but it was not overly dominant. Probabeel then knocked him off in the Might & Power, and then was a scratching from the Cox Plate as a favourite. He then put in a strong Mackinnon win to round out the spring. In the Autumn, his Blamey run was very solid and then won the ASM pretty easily. He was then a close second in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, losing to the ride of the year and disappointed up in Queensland, losing the Doomben Cup.

Verdict: I'm Thunderstruck while solid, was a step below the other two and although Think It Over beat Zaaki in their only clash, Zaaki lost to a better ride and won more Group 1s. Zaaki is the Middler of the Year in what I would say was a weak year across these trips.

Best Stayer of the Season (2000m+)

Nominations: Duais, Incentivise, Montefilia, Verry Elleegant

Duais (4yoM). Record: 9=3-0-1 (2 Group 1s)

She really stamped her authority in the Autumn winning the Australia Cup and Tancred Stakes against some very good horses in dominant fashion. She was also unlucky to not win the Chipping Norton Stakes as well but did fall away in the race to establish herself as a star in the Queen Elizabeth but for a 4yo mare on a bog having her 5th start at WFA may have proved too tiresome. Her spring was lacklustre however, only winning the Coongy Cup, albeit in impressive fashion.

Incentivise (5yoG). Record: 4=3-1-0 (3 Group 1s) He was transferred to Peter Moody after dominating up in Queensland and he did not disappoint winning the G1 Makybe Diva Stakes off a slow tempo which was very impressive for a stayer. He then won the G1 Turnbull off a quick tempo demonstrating his versatility in which Verry Elleegant could not even keep up. His Caulfield Cup win was insane sitting 6 wide first bend with the whole race out to get him and he still won 3.5L eased down. The Melbourne Cup however proved one bridge too far, sitting wide on a fast tempo but still managed to run second even after pulling up with an issue which will keep him out for over a year. Hugely impressive horse.

Montefilia (4yoM). Record: 7=2-1-1 (2 Group 1s)

Feel Montefilia is still somewhat underrated for a 4 time G1 winner (although G1s seem to grow on trees in Australia). She had a strong start to the spring, with strong runs in the Chelmsford and Kingston Town Stakes, she then came out and won the Metropolitan at top weight at WFA, an impressive feat. She then followed this up with a fourth in the Caulfield Cup. Her autumn was strong, beating Verry Elleegant in the Ranvet in very dominant fashion but like many, flopped in the Queen Elizabeth.

Verry Elleegant (6yoM). Record: 9=3-2-1 (3 Group 1s)

The mighty mare. Her spring was very strong, placing in the winx stakes and then taking out the George Main. A rare falter in the Turnbull running fourth but returned close to her best in the Cox Plate where she hit the line with more to give. The market missed her in the Melbourne Cup (myself included) where Waller did not give a lot away but she came out and won in what was one of the best wins in the race this century. That is when she became a champion. Her autumn was disappointing by her standards, only taking out the one Group 1 but that is the standard she has set and was likely due to such a strong tempo where she probably needed a longer spell. Bring on France.

Verdict: Duais came onto the scene too late to be considered, Montefilia, while strong probably does not quite measure up to the other two. Incentivise was incredibly dominant and if he ran in the Autumn, probably wins this but it is hard to go past Verry Elleegant, winning 3 G1s, including the race that stops the nation.

Best 3yo of the Season

Nominations: Anamoe, Artorius, Hitotsu, Home Affairs

Anamoe (3yoC). Record: 9=4-3-1 (2 Group 1s)

Very hyped heading into the 3yo season after a very dominant 2yo campaign Anamoe certainly did not disappoint. He won his first up run, then was an unlucky second, where some argue track bias beat him. He then won a strong Caulfield Guineas in which they decided to target the Cox Plate where he was robbed of a victory where State of Rest should have had the race stripped of him (however, Anamoe did carry 49.5kgs which is a problem which needs to be sorted IMO). His autumn was slightly disappointing, losing the Randwick Guineas to Converge with no real excuses and failed to fire a shot on a bottomless Queen Elizabeth but did win the Rosehill Guineas in incredibly impressive fashion.

Artorius (3yoC). Record: 9=0-2-4 (0 Group 1s)

Ah, the biggest cat in Australian racing Artorius. His spring was very solid, placing in his first 2 runs but as favourite in both. His 4th in the Golden Rose was luckless and his 3rd in the Caulfield Guineas was strong, hitting the line well. The Freedman team dropped him back where he ran up the backside of a wall of horses for a very strong and luckless third in the Coolmore. He had just the two autumn runs, finishing 6th in both but once again, was very unlucky in the Newmarket where he bombed the start and the jockey picked the wrong side of the track. He was then sent to the UK, where he again, ran a luckless 3rd in the Platinum Jubilee, beating Home Affairs and was just the 3rd Australian horse to place in the July cup this century. However, he failed to register a win the whole season. Hopefully, he can win the G1 Prix De Gheest in France as he deserves a win.

Hitotsu (3yoC). Record: 5=4-0-0 (3 Group 1s)

He broke records wherever he went. Going from winning a Donald Maiden to a 5th placing in a Caulfield Guineas. He then won the VRC Derby which was the first time since Monte Carlo in 1956 that a horse has won the VRC Derby, coming off running in the Caulfield Guineas. He then won the Australian Guineas first up, being the first horse since Mahogany in 1994 to win the double and only the third ever with Kings High in 1989 but the first to do it in consecutive starts. He then won the ATC Derby, just the third horse to win the double behind Dulcify and Mahogany since it was moved to the autumn. Now while some may talk down the quality of who he beat, there is no denying what he did.

Home Affairs (3yoC). Record: 6-3-0-0 (2 Group 1s)

He is certainly fast, proving that in dominant fashion in the Kindergarten Stakes. Coolmore took a chance on him in the Everest where he was not able to keep up. He then won the Coolmore impressively after being able to dictate the race. He also won the Lightning under somewhat dubious circumstances but it was no fault of his own. He then flopped in the Newmarket but admittedly, he carried a very large weight. Coolmore decided to give him one more race overseas in the Platinum Jubilee where he unfortunately flopped again. Personally, the Kings Stand would have been a better option but he still would have lost to Nature Strip anyway.

Verdict: Like his racing pattern, Artorius has ran on for a very impressive 4th. Home Affairs is also ruled out due only performing well when he got to dictate the race. While Anamoe is likely the better horse should have won the CP, his flop in the QE will be held against him here and Hitotsu is crowned the champion 3yo due to his history making season. Special mention to Gypsy Goddess and Fangirl who IMO, were the best 3yo fillies but I do believe the fillies were far inferior to the colts this season.

Best 2yo of the Season

Nominations: Coolangatta, Fireburn, She's Extreme

Coolangatta (2yoF). Record: 4=3-0-1

The dominant early season 2yo, winning the Gimcrack in dominant fashion. She then won the Magic Millions, just defeating Russian Conquest. The wet tracks in Sydney forced the Maher & Eustace stable to try and get her fit off the track for the Golden Slipper, in which she ran 3rd. If there was less wet ground, she could have put together a very dominant season but that is just speculative.

Fireburn (2yoF). Record: 7=5-1-0

Fireburn certainly had some campaign, winning 3 in a row, including the G2 Sweet Embrace Stakes. She then was overlooked by punters in the Slipper, and came from copping a check almost resulting in a fall where she had to shift back to last. Avdulla then proceeded to hit every gap and not only did she win, but she won very well in one of the best wins of the race this century. She then made it 5 on the trot taking out the ATC Sires in dominant fashion before going just going down to rival She's Extreme in the Champagne Stakes, failing to complete the triple crown.

She's Extreme (2yoF). Record: 6=2-2-0

Came on the scene late, running second to Fireburn in the G2 Sweet Embrace Stakes (that turned out to be the right form didn't it) and then won the G3 Sweet Embrace Stakes in nice fashion. She was then an unlucky 7th in the Slipper and would've finished a lot closer with even luck. She then ran second in the ATC Sires, and managed to beat Fireburn in the Champagne to claim a deserved G1 race.

Verdict: There is not too much to discuss here, Fireburn was very dominant this season, producing arguably the best 2yo season since Pierro. Unlike the 3yos, the fillies dominated the 2yos this year. The best of the boys based on achievements would have been Daumier or Best of Bordeaux.

Horse of the Year Nominations: Incentivise, Nature Strip, Verry Elleegant

Verdict: As Incentivise, was defeated by Verry Elleegant in the stayers rankings, he comes in at third. It is now a battle of the two champions and while I'd argue Verry Elleegant (and Incentivise for that matter) had better performance than the Strip, his ability to run to a very high peak time and time again both domestically and internationally means that Nature Strip is the 2021/22 Couch Critic Horse of the Year.

Jockey of the Year Nominations: Brett Prebble, James McDonald, Tommy Berry

Brett Prebble (as of 17/07/22): Metro Winners: 44 Metro Strike Rate: 14.3%

Metro ROI: 8.1%

Metro Prize Money: $13 Million

Group 1 wins: 5

The biggest beneficiary of circumstances he had no control over, Prebble managed to pick up the rides on Behemoth and Incentivise and he did not disappoint picking up 5 group 1s. His ride on Probabeel to upset Zaaki was also excellent, conserving all her energy. He is still underrated, from a general public perspective and a punting perspective, returning 8.1% on investment. He is one of the best riders in the country.

James McDonald (as of 17/07/22):

Metro Winners: 127 Metro Strike Rate: 22.6%

Metro ROI: -11.2%

Metro Prize Money: $34 Million

Group 1 wins: 12* (One was the Everest, one was in the UK)

What a season from JMac. While Nature Strip and Verry Elleegant provided him with 7 of the 12, he just continues to ride well day in, day out. His ride on Verry Elleegant was perfect, tracking Grand Promenade when he went out 3 wide, following him into the race to then explode. His ride on Cascadian was another pearler, demonstrating how versatile of a rider he is. He also went 3/10 from his rides at Royal Ascot, one of which was around 26 bucks.

Damien Oliver (as of 17/07/22):

Metro Winners: 50 Metro Strike Rate: 12%

Metro ROI: -31%

Metro Prize Money: $12 Million

Group 1 wins: 5

The GOAT Jockey, potentially worldwide put together another strong season. He will not be winning another premiership but for a big race, there would not be many more you would want on your horse. He rode Anamoe in the Caulfield Guineas, and his ride on Colette was the ride of the Flemington Carnival in which he rode 3 Group 1s. He then managed a fifth Group 1 riding Nimalee in the Queen Of The Turf. After just turning 50, hopefully we get a few more good years out of him.

Verdict: James McDonald put together one of the most dominant seasons of all time and is rewarded with the Best Jockey Award.

Trainer(s) of the Year:

Nominations: Ciaron Maher & Dave Eustace, Chris Waller, Gai Waterhouse & Adrian Bott

Ciaron Maher & Dave Eustace (as of 17/07/22):

Winners: 310 Strike Rate: 20.1%

ROI: -10.6%

Group 1 Wins: 6

Individual G1 Winners: 4

What a season from Maher & Eustace. The amount of horses they managed to get from benchmark grade to group grade is staggering. Marabi, Lighthouse, Yonce, Floating Artist, Grand Promenade and Snapdancer were all horses that improved leaps and bounds through the grades this year. They also managed to get Away Game and Le Don De Vie back to their bests. But most impressively, what they did with Hitotsu was amazing, freakish training performance and only bested by one performance from another trainer (more later)

Chris Waller (as of 17/07/22):

Winners: 342 Strike Rate: 15.2%

ROI: -19.6%

Group 1 Wins: 12* (Including the Everest & Kings Stand)

Individual G1 Winners: 6

The master himself Chris Waller makes the list which is of surprise to exactly no one. 11 G1 wins with 6 individual G1 winners is the best in the country but he does train the most horses. His ability to figure out Nature Strip was sensational to turn him into the consistency machine he is. Managing to get September Run back to her best was an incredible effort as well. Another great season.

Gai Waterhouse & Adrian Bott (as of 17/07/22):

Winners: 153 Strike Rate: 18.9%

ROI: 3.2%

Group 1 Wins: 5

Individual G1 Winners: 5

Waterhouse & Bott continue to show everyone how much of a force they are, striking at 18.9% winners to runners. What is most impressive is having 5 individual group 1 winners, causing a few upsets. However, what was the best training performance of the year, even better than Hitotsu was what they managed to do with Alligator Blood. That horse looked shot and gone, but they were patient and worked him back up for the winter carnival where he took out the jewel of the Queensland Carnival, the Stradbroke Hcp and did it sitting 4 wide.

Verdict: Ciaron Maher & Dave Eustace have revolutionised the training game and are awarded as the trainer(s) of the year.

Quick Summary:

Sprinter: Nature Strip Middler: Zaaki

Stayer: Verry Elleegant

3yo: Hitotsu

2yo: Fireburn

Horse: Nature Strip

Jockey: James McDonald

Trainer: Ciaron Maher & Dave Eustace

There are the Couch Critic's awards for the 2021/22 Horse Racing Season. Do you agree or disagree? Let us know what you think.

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