WE pay tribute today to the great champion Senor Santa, who made history in South Africa when he became the first top sprinter to earn over R1-million in 1990.

Evergreen as a racehorse, Senor Santa competed successfully at the highest level from two to eight. He won 15 races and over R1.7 million during a career which saw him face and defeat such outstanding performers and G1 winners as Blue Cossack, Goldmark, Harry’s Echo, Miss Averof, Roland’s Song, Simonside, Speak No Evil and Cape Guineas winner St John’s Wood and record breaking Queen’s Plate winning filly Wainui.

The flashy chestnut, who raced for owners Fred and Harold Cawdry, picked up three ARCSA awards during his illustrious career –South Africa’s Champion 2YO Colt of 1987, the gelding would go on to be named Champion Sprinter in both 1989 and 1990.  Raised at Boland Stud and retired to Summerhill Stud, the grand old champ died at age 29, in 2014.

When Senor Santa (Gavin Howes) changed gears ion the 1990 Computaform Sprint, he raced from near last at the 250m mark, to win going away.
When Senor Santa (Gavin Howes) changed gears in the 1990 Computaform Sprint, he quickened from near last at the 250m mark, to win going away.

Senor Santa was first trained by Tony Rivalland, before Willie Pieters took over. His wins included no fewer than seven at G1 level –this tally included the G1 Smirnoff Plate, G1 FNB 1600, G1 Star Sprint (twice), G1 Computaform Sprint (twice) and the G1 Natal Flying Championship (now the Mercury Sprint).

Hee champ also made history when taking on his paternal half sister Northern Princess in a match race over 1600m, and, while the filly won thanks to an inspired ride by Michael Roberts, Senor Santa proved doubters wrong by showing he stayed the mile trip.

He won from 1000m to 1600m, and won at five different racetracks – Clairwood Park, Gosforth Park, Greyville, Scottsville, and Turffontein.

The champion, who sported a truly sensational turn of foot on his day, ended his days, as a “babysitter” for weanlings in the glorious surroundings of Summerhill Stud where he remained a public hero until his death. The champion’s legendary status resulted in Turffontein naming a race after him –with the G2 Senor Santa Handicap currently rated among the top sprints in South Africa.

His regular jockey Gavin Howes often told about Senor Santa’s ability to “switch off” completely during a race, cruising along in midfield, only to turn it on like greased lightning when asked to respond.

Mick Goss of Summerhill described Senor Santa’s running style: “They say you can’t give start in a 1000 metre sprint, but Senor Santa did so every time he faced the starter, and we wonder whether he ever passed third gear running them down from the back of the pack. They also say that “nice guys” come second in life, but here again, he was the golden exception.”

A son of Northern Guest and Mexican Charm, Senor Santa was regarded as one of the best ever produced by his sire, if not the best.

Goss said: “Senor Santa’s story is straightforward: he earned his place at Summerhill because he happened to be the best racing son of the best stallion ever to stand here. He was one of the ‘nice guys’ of racing.”

-Sources: Cape Breeders; Summerhill Stud; Media24.

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