Falbrav has been chosen as the first-ever winner of the British Horseracing Board’s Horse of the Year Award.

The BHB Flat Racing Awards are a new concept to honour British racing’s flat champions, and are based on and coincide with the publication of the International Classifications.

BHB Chairman Peter Savill said at the awards on Monday: “I am proud to be launching these new BHB Awards. The quality of racing in this country remains the best in the world and our leading horses and connections deserve accolades for the contribution that they make.”

The presentation was a huge improvement on years gone by. The BHB laid on lunch at the Savoy, big-screen videos of the main performers interspersed by blasts of trendy pop tunes – but an underlying dispute knocked the polish off what would otherwise have been a very smooth inaugural British Flat Racing Awards ceremony.

In November, the BHB announced its criteria for the awards as the highest-rated horse in the respective category of the International Classifications, which are said to represent the most definitive benchmark by which racing performances are judged.

Falbrav was not in fact the highest performer in any category in the International Classifications. Hawk Wing topped the International Classifications, and although he was awarded the BHB trophies for both Champion Older Male Horse and Champion Miler, he missed out on the Horse of the Year award, which he should have been given according to the BHB’s own criteria.

Peter Savill was quick to comment on this point. “We determined that BHB’s Horse of the Year should be the horse that while achieving an outstanding level of performance, was also the horse that did most to raise the profile of British Racing.”

And it is true that few would dispute that Falbrav was the well-deserved Horse of the Year. He is talented, versatile and consistent and produced his five group one wins in three different countries, including fabulous performances at Ascot, Sandown and York.

But there has been much criticism of the insularity of the awards for limiting contenders to those who have either been trained in Britain or who have achieved the category-topping rating on a British racecourse.

The BHB rejected this criticism, pointing out the huge impact Britain has in the industry, and highlighting the fact that a staggering 52% of all European horses in the 2003 International Classifications were British-trained. The awards, they reiterated, were designed to honour British racing.

Kieren Fallon was named Champion Jockey in recognition of a great season in the saddle, and Khalid Abdullah was Britain’s champion trainer for the first time – a richly deserved reward for his years of generous support for British racing.