Just A Way: needs a big run in Hong Kong to be an outstanding champ
PICTURE: Masakazu Takahashi
WORLD CLASS: an analysis of the international scene according to Racing Post Ratings
There was never a doubt with Frankel. He annihilated the best around and was crowned world champion by unanimous consent, but this year the picture is a lot less clear.
With six weeks to go Just A Way looks nailed on, by ratings at least, for the world title. He led the way from an early stage with an RPR of 130 for his win in the Dubai Duty Free in March, but since then the Japanese star hasn’t exactly performed like a world champion.
A narrow win in a Grade 1 back home and a predictable defeat in the Arc (over a distance outside his comfort zone) left the world leader entering the final weeks of the season on a recovery mission.
His next start could come in Hong Kong next month. If he fails to cement his status as number one questions will be asked over his credibility for the title. Valid questions.
He hasn’t won since June and he hasn’t won in the style of a world champion since March. But we shouldn’t be hung up on the calendar and the problem isn’t really with Just A Way anyway. It’s with his opposition.
Just A Way very much deserved a mark of 130 after his wide-margin win over those smart rivals in a very fast time at Meydan. But 130 isn’t normally enough to bag a world championship.
In a normal year Just A Way would have finished second or third in the pecking order. This year, however, 130 may be enough for the number one spot, which would make him the lowest rated world champion since 1995.
So what happened to his opponents? Well, this was a year very much dependent on opportunity – or lack of it.
A mark of 130+ might have been achievable for a horse with the ability of, say, Kingman, Australia or Shared Belief. But that trio of three-year-olds all failed, through lack of opportunity or talent, to dethrone their Japanese sensei.
There is little doubt that at least one of the young trio (Kingman, Australia or Shared Belief) could have run to an RPR of 131 if everything had fallen right. But those circumstances never arose.
If we rated horses on what they might have done under their ideal circumstances you could pick any one of them as your world champion. Judged on raw ability alone we simply can’t say who was best.
Kingman won four Group 1s between May and August. There’s little doubt he was the best miler in Europe and even after his early retirement from a throat infection, his form lines continued to work out in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Mile.
But Kingman bagged all his wins in slowly run races – very slowly run races. And for a horse with such an ominous turn of foot and facing small fields who run the race on his terms, he was never really tested.
Off a strong pace we can only guess what might have been. He may have unleashed the beast even off a true gallop and destroyed his rivals at Ascot in October, but equally he might have been a one-trick, speed-machine and had all his races teed-up perfectly to show off that asset.
In retirement the question was never answered, so we rate him on what we know. There was no strong hierarchy in the mile division behind him and even the form of his best race (St James’s Palace Stakes) has a couple of fairly sizeable holes in it. RPR 128.
Australia won two Derbies then beat his elders with an impressive success in the International Stakes at York. He was defeated by The Grey Gatsby on his final start in the Irish Champion before a hoof injury forced his retirement.
A perfect swansong on Champions Day, and a potential rematch with his Leopardstown conqueror might have seen him post a new high. But he didn’t. He retired. So we rate him on what we know. RPR 129.
Shared Belief looked like he could pick up the baton. The other leading three-year-olds had been retired but the favourite for the Breeders’ Cup Classic had looked very special. He was winning with consummate ease and unbeaten in seven starts heading to Santa Anita.
Sadly he lost his one big opportunity against the best horses in the country when knocked sideways coming out of the gate, thus failing to grab a handy sit and thereby losing that all-important racing position in what turned into an unsatisfactory pace-biased affair.
In the end he didn’t appear to run with the same zest, so he may not actually have been any better than that which we already knew of him. Again, we rate him on what we know. RPR 128.
If things had fallen differently; if Kingman faced a strong field at a strong pace in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes; if Australia had destroyed his rivals in the Champion Stakes; if Shared Belief had managed to get an early lead at Santa Anita. Oh, what might have been.
It might be seen as unsatisfactory that the most naturally talented horse will not be crowned world champion (or maybe he will?). But there are no certainties in racing and perhaps taking opportunities when presented is what matters most. Perhaps that alone makes Just A Way the worthy champ.
Just A Way took his opportunity, while the other three had theirs taken from them. He may not have been the most naturally talented horse in training this year, but he shouldn’t be marked down for deficiencies elsewhere. And as far as we know, he was the best.
Those who prefer to crown champions based on a body of work might prefer Kingman, while those who prefer a touch of versatility might plump for Australia. Jockey Mike Smith thinks he could have won the Classic by four-lengths without interference in the Classic, so he probably thinks it’s Shared Belief.
If Just A Way comes out on top there will be an element of the default about it. But let’s not pretend he was a one-race wonder. Even if we took an average of their best two RPRs this season the Japanese champ would still come out on top of the world.
He deserves the title this year. But unless he does something amazing in Hong Kong next month he won’t be an outstanding champ.
Andre Fabre’s Melbourne Cup runner Au Revoir posted the best performance in a quiet week on the international scene, posting an RPR of 113 for his win in the Group 2 Zipping Classic at Sandown (Melbourne) on Saturday.
Au Revoir is set to join Aussie handler Peter Moody next year.
TOP OF THE CLASS Au Revoir 113 Andre Fabre (Fr) (Zipping Classic, Sandown, 1m4f, 15 Nov)
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