Evergreen as a racehorse, Senor Santa competed successfully at the highest level from two to eight. He won 15 races and more than R1.7 million during a career which saw him face and defeat such outstanding performers and Grade 1 winners as Blue Cossack, Goldmark, Harry’s Echo, Miss Averof, Roland’s Song, Simonside, Speak No Evil, Cape Guineas winner St John’s Wood and record-breaking Queen’s Plate winning filly Wainui.
The flashy chestnut gelding, who raced for owners Fred and Harold Cawdry, picked up three Arcsa awards during his illustrious career – Champion 2YO Colt of 1987 and 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.
Senor Santa was first trained by Tony Rivalland, before Willie Pieters took over. His wins included seven Grade 1s – the Smirnoff Plate, the FNB 1600, The Star Sprint (twice), the Computaform Sprint (twice) and the Natal Flying Championship (now the Mercury Sprint).
The 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 1600m trip.
He won from 1000m to 1600m and won at five different racetracks – Clairwood Park, Gosforth Park, Greyville, Scottsville and Turffontein.
The champion, with a sensational turn of foot, ended his days as a “babysitter” for weanlings in the glorious surroundings of Summerhill Stud – where he remained a public hero until his death.
His regular jockey Gavin Howes often told of 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.”