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Willie Pieters (far left) and Jeff Lloyd (far right) and connections after Senor Santa had won the Gr 1 Star Sprint for a second time in his second last career start (Picture: Sporting Post). 

Willie Pieters recalled today how Michael “Muis” Roberts tactical mastery won the day in the famous Winning Form-sponsored December 1989 match race between the two paternal siblings, the Paddy Lunn-trained Northern Princess and the Willie Pieters-trained Senor Santa, who were both by the top sire Northern Guest.

Willie said, “I always rated Gavin Howes and that is why he was my first choice jockey at the time. Senor Santa had to come from behind. Once he hit the front he stopped racing, he thought it was race over. You had to time it just right. In all of his races he came from behind. Of course Muis knew that only too well. So being the cunning person that he is, and I mean that with the greatest respect, Muis spread the news a couple of days before the race that he was going to force Senor Santa to go to the front because that is the only way to beat him. He told this to anybody who was prepared to listen. But of course as far as Gavin was concerned that was not going to happen. So when they came out of the pens Muis went like a bat out of hell and Gavin literally trotted out the pens to make sure he wasn’t going to be in the front. So they hadn’t gone 100 metres and Muis was ten lengths ahead. He did exactly the opposite to what he said he would do. Credit to Gavin he didn’t panic and he gradually made up that distance. But he had to make up the ten lengths before he even started the race. He actually got to Northern Princess and actually headed her about 100m before the post, but he couldn’t sustain it, he had done his dash. So it was very clever tactics from Muis, but when I say clever tactics he started his tactics three days before the race and my hat off to him, he deserved it. But obviously Gavin was a bit between a rock and a hard place.”
Willie, who trained out of Summerveld, said Senor Santa was the best horse he ever trained and reminisced about his beautiful daisy cutting action, which was highly effective as long as the going was good.
He said, “The times he flopped was almost 100% exclusively due  to soft going. He could not operate in soft going.”
Willie recalled one particular occasion when the going went against Senor Santa (he couldn’t quite remember the race but looking at the horse’s record it was likely the Gr 1 Star Sprint at Turffontein, which followed his exhilarating 2.05 length victory over Goldmark to give him his second Computaform Sprint at Gosforth Park in 1991).
Willie recalled, “The night before the race it poured down. He was odds-on and I went to the stipes and said ‘Can I scratch the horse?’ They said, ‘On what grounds, have you got a veterinary certificate?’ and I said, ‘No, he just does not act in the wet.’ They said, ‘That’s not good enough, you have to have a veterinary certificate.’ I said, ‘I don’t but the horse cannot gallop in the wet.’ They refused and made me run him and he ran right down the field. I was sworn at and I was abused verbally by punters.” 
Willie can not take the credit for selecting Senor Santa at the sales.
He was chosen by Tony Rivalland who, after nurturing him as a youngster, lost him due to an unfortunate fall out with the owners.
Senor Santa, who has a race named after him today, had 35 runs for 15 wins and 11 places and he won six Gr 1s, five of them sprints and one over 1600m.