Just A Way, who won only three of his six starts last year and finished seventh behind Treve in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, was named the World’s Best Racehorse of 2014 at a ceremony in London on Tuesday thanks to his outstanding six-and-a-quarter lengths victory in the Dubai Duty Free at Meydan in March. Epiphaneia, who beat Just A Way by four lengths in the Japan Cup in November, completed a one-two for Japanese-trained horses in the awards, which are based on annual ratings determined by an international panel of handicappers, while Australia, the Derby winner, was one of five horses on the third rung of the ladder, 3lb behind Just A Way.
Just A Way is the first Japanese-trained racehorse to head the international ratings at the end of the Flat season, and while the title of “World’s Best Racehorse” might jar with anyone who backed him on his final three outings of the year, all of which ended in defeat, his victory in the Duty Free was the undoubted highlight of World Cup night at Meydan in March. It was a reasonable choice as the outstanding individual performance of the year, and enough to earn him a final rating of 130.
Epiphaneia was rated 129, while both Kingman, the season’s outstanding miler, and The Grey Gatsby, who edged out Australia to win the Irish Champion Stakes, were rated alongside Australia on 127. Treve, who received a 5lb mares’ allowance when becoming the first dual Arc winner since 1978, was rated 126, 1lb ahead of Bayern, the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and the first American-trained horse on the list, on 125.
Tuesday’s ceremony was sponsored by Longines, who were responsible for translating the handicappers’ annual deliberations into the award for “Best Racehorse”, and while many European racing fans will be puzzled that, for instance, Kingman was officially rated no better than The Grey Gatsby, John Gosden’s colt might well have finished closer to the top of the list had not suffered a career-ending injury after the last of four Group One victories in the Prix Jacques le Marois in August.
He was one of several three-year-olds, Australia included, who failed to contest a major prize at the end of the season.
“The three-year-olds were frustrating to an extent as we did not see the best of them,” Phil Smith, the British Horseracing Authority’s senior handicapper, said. “Neither Kingman or Australia actually finished their three-year-old career for a variety of reasons.
“We hoped that after [winning] the St James’s Palace Stakes [at Royal Asot] Kingman would have gone on and shown superior form to 127, but the Sussex Stakes was an unsatisfactory contest both in terms of number of runners and pace, so we couldn’t get him higher there. He didn’t run at the end of the season, and neither did Australia, so we were left with a situation where probably all of us thought those horses were potentially considerably better than 127, but our job is to handicap horses on what we’ve seen.”
Belardo, the Dewhurst Stakes winner, finished 2014 as the top-rated juvenile, but his mark of 119 is the joint-lowest since ratings began in 1978. He was rated 1lb in front of Charming Thought, who beat Ivawood (117) in the Middle Park Stakes, while Elm Park, the easy winner of the Racing Post Trophy, was also rated 117. Tiggy Wiggy and Found, again on 117, were jointly the season’s top-rated juvenile fillies.
“It was a year with no outstanding performance among the colts,” Matthew Tester, the BHA’s two-year-old specialist, said. “The one that really made me go ‘wow’ was Tiggy Wiggy [when she won by six lengths] in the Super Sprint at Newbury.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing how she makes out this year. I think [Richard Hannon and her owners] may feel almost honour bound to have a go at stretching her out to a mile for the 1,000 Guineas. She seem to have so much pace last year that it would be a pleasant surprise if that turned out to work.”
Tester feels that ante-post backers should look below the top of the list in the search for a possible Derby winner.
“Looking at the top 15 two-year-olds on the list, I suspect that none of the colts will stay a mile-and-a-half,” Tester said. “If you’re looking for a Derby winner that might go on and win the King George, you’re looking beyond the top ones.”
Two possibilities are John F Kennedy and Ol’ Man River, both trained by Aidan O’Brien and both rated 114 in the classification, 5lb behind Belardo. Breeders will also be encouraged that their pedigrees suggest that class does matter, as both are also the offspring of top-rated two-year-old fillies of the past in Rumplestiltskin and Finsceal Beo respectively.
“John F Kennedy is very similar to Australia in many ways in that he ran three times last year,” Mark Bird, Ireland’s senior handicapper, said. “What seems to have happened this year to an extent is that the ground changed [in the autumn] and horses that might have gone from [O’Brien’s stable at] Ballydoyle to the Dewhurst or the Racing Post Trophy didn’t, which may be part of the reason why the figures are lower this year.
“John F Kennedy appears to tick all the boxes in terms of next year, while Ol’ Man River is out of a champion racemare in Finsceal Beo and is one of the few in the classification that are unbeaten, which is always a good sign.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010