CAN anyone catch Miss Leonidas?
The Group-winning mare has been retired from racing for four months now, but is fundamentally a shoo-in to claim the Bendigo Trainers' Association horse of the year title for the second straight year.
Another win would give trainer Shaun Dwyer his fourth award success following wins with Anudjuwan in 2010-11, Villa Verde in 2012-13 and Miss Leonidas last season.
The daughter of I Am Invincible broke through for a well-deserved Group race victory by winning the Group 2 Caulfield Sprint last October.
That win came hot on the heels of a second in the Group 1 Moir Stakes at Moonee Valley on AFL grand final eve.
The mighty mare would round out her career with another Group 1 second in the $700,000 The Galaxy at Rosehill in March.
Her efforts at Group level put the seal on a season more dominant than the mare's 2018-19 horse of the year winning year.
Miss Leonidas, who accrued $519,250 in prize money during 2019-20, is an even greater certainty to claim the sprinter of the year award, ahead of fellow nominees, the Patrick Starr-trained Diamond Oasis and Tatunka, whose four wins for his trainer Bob Donat included three-straight during May and June.
The Bendigo Trainers' Association's Danny Curran said the deeds of Miss Leonidas and those of others like the Shane Fliedner-trained Hi Stranger, the favourite to take out the three-year-old award, and Josh Julius' emerging stayer Super Girl, had shone the spotlight on a exceptional season for the Bendigo training ranks.
"When you look at it, it hasn't been a bad year especially when you look at the quality of horses," he said.
"There's black-type performers all over the joint and that's a great thing for Bendigo.
"Obviously Miss Leonidas was very unlucky not to win a Group 1, but coming close in two and winning a Group 2 is a mighty effort.
"Hi Stranger is black-type, St Edward's Crown is a black-type performer, and Super Girl finished third in the Ramsden, which is a black-type race. And then you have Nick Smart's Gettie Leggie, who won the Brierly Steeplechase, which is jumping black-type.
"Considering three or four years ago we didn't have a black-type performer for some time, it's quite promising for Bendigo.
With the top award all but sewn up, plenty of interest centres on the race for the middle distance horse of the year, with the ultra-consistent Brendon Hearps-trained Vungers up against a pair of Nick Smart-trained campaigners Silent Command and Single Handed.
A solid season for Vungers included two wins and three placings from five starts, with wins achieved at Moonee Valley and Bendigo, for earnings of $73,175.
Silent Command's eight starts produced two wins (at Moonee Valley and Murray Bridge) and three placings for stakes of $68,875.
In contrast, Single Handed had five starts during his five-year-old season, but impacted strongly with a win in the Listed Tokyo City Cup (1800m) at Morphettville last September and one placing at Bendigo for earnings of $76,000.
"They are all very well-performed horses, but only one can win," Curran said.
"Obviously in some of those other categories the winners stand out, but the middle distance race is a much, much tighter one."
The battle for the best performed two-year-old is a race in two, with the Julius-trained filly Piscatorial (one win from two starts) up against the Fliedner-trained gelding Ultimate Man (two placings from six starts).
Winners in all categories, which are voted on a 3-2-1 basis by three judges, will be announced next week.
With large gatherings in regional Victoria banned during stage three of COVID-19 restrictions, Curran said the association hoped to host a gathering to honour its 2019-20 winners later this year.
Two-year-old: Piscatorial (Josh Julius); Ultimate Man (Shane Fliedner).
Three-year-old: Hi Stranger (Shane Fliedner); Kiata (Rod Symons); Latenighttoughguy (Kym Hann); St Edward's Crown (Shane Fliedner).
Sprinter: Diamond Oasis (Patrick Starr); Miss Leonidas (Shaun Dwyer); Tatunka (Bob Donat).
Middle distance: Silent Command (Nick Smart); Single Handed (Nick Smart); Vungers (Brendon Hearps).
Stayer: Don't Make Me Wait (Neville Kennedy); Queen Guinevere (Shane Fliedner); Super Girl (Josh Julius).
Jumper: Getting Leggie Nick Smart); Mr Coyne (Nick Smart/Brett Charry).
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