Rewarding the Sportsmen: Just A Way's Top Racehorse Award Intriguing

Rewarding the Sportsmen: Just A Way's Top Racehorse Award Intriguing
Photo: Mathea Kelley

Would a reform of the Eclipse Award structure change the way that horses are campaigned in North America?

While the racing industry of the United States was deep in discussion about the Eclipse Awards, a similar year-end awards ceremony was taking place across the Atlantic in London, England. The Longines World’s Best Racehorse Ceremony celebrated the top horses from around the world by judging the performances in elite races. The results yielded the top horse as Japan’s Just A Way, from his jaw-dropping six length victory in the 2014 Dubai Duty Free. (full rankings list here)

As we know, the Eclipse Awards take into account a horse’s body of work throughout the calendar year, whereas the Longines Ceremony only accounts for a single performance to set the high bar. Very systematic and in some years anti-climatic, the awards can give the connections an extra level of excitement as the year comes to a close. For example, Just A Way set the target at a rating of 130 in March during the Dubai Duty Free and the next best rating would not occur until late November when Epiphaneia would win the Japan Cup over Just A Way, Gentildonna, and many of Japan’s best.

Looking closer at Just A Way’s 2014 campaign one will notice that after his romp in the Dubai Duty Free, he would visit the winner’s circle only once more in the Yasuda Kinen. He would not win for the rest of 2014 in what would conclude his career as a racehorse. While going winless from June – December would likely eliminate a USA horse from Eclipse Award contention, Just A Way still managed to capture the title of the World’s Best Racehorse.

Evaluation of his race record shows that Just A Way is not more than a nine furlong horse. In starts at nine furlongs or less he boasted an impressive record of 12-4-5-0 while at longer than nine furlongs his record was a less eye catching 9-1-1-1.

Yet after his Dubai Duty Free and Yasuda Kinen victories, rather than staying in the comfort zone of eight to nine furlongs, his connections took the bold route. The next three races, all longer than 12 furlongs, signified one of the most honorable and sportsmanlike conclusions to a top class thoroughbred’s career. Just A Way’s path to the stallion barn and respective finishes were the Prix de l’Arc de Triumph (8th place), the Japan Cup (2nd place), and the Arima Kinen (4th place).

It begs the question of why the connections of the top horse in the world would push their mount beyond his obvious comfort zone when things were going as well as they were? Regardless of motive, now that the outcome is known, do they still feel like it was the right decision? Given that they just took home the award for the World’s Best Racehorse, it would be hard for them to think twice.

Hypothetically speaking, if a similar campaign path and outcome occurred in the USA, it would have likely lost an Eclipse Award. However, in the reality of this case, sportsmanship was positively rewarded. Of course we could overthink the situation and imagine that the connections saw that their horse already posted the highest rating of the past year, and decided that they were going to roll the dice and go for the more prestigious races, with higher purses. Regardless of how you wish to analyze the campaign decisions of Just A Way, the facts cannot be ignored.

In the world of social media, and nearly endless criticism of the campaign paths of many American horses, I wonder how things would be different if our award system rewarded top performances and not necessarily the entire body of work throughout the year. One example that readily comes to mind would be the connections of Wise Dan, who get repeated criticism for the choice to keep him at shorter distances and isolated to turf. Regardless of the thought behind the decisions of Morton Fink, one would have to wonder if the path would be different if the Eclipse Award structure was more heavily weighted toward a single performance.

I’m not suggesting to change the way that we determine the champions of our sport in North America, but I do feel that the current system biases campaign strategy over facing the top horses against each other as frequently as possible to find out who the top performer really is. This is not always true, but it does seem to happen more often than not.

To conclude, I’ll ask the opening question of this blog in a slighty different way. Would a reform of the Eclipse Award structure be a positive or negative toward the way that horses are campaigned in North America?

Meet Matt Scott 

My horseracing journey began when I was 16 years old and my mom took me to Hollywood Park. Although I did not fully appreciate it at the time, the experience stuck with me forever. 10 years later, during one of my many international business trips to Hong Kong, I visited Sha Tin racetrack to watch the races. This is where my true passion began. 

 

Holding a masters degree in mechanical engineering, the puzzle of handicapping intrigued me. I have made a career of making decisions based on trends, patterns, and formulas, which is why I think I was initially drawn to the sport. However, I have truly learned to appreciate the horses and how magnificent they are as athletes. 

 

I currently live in San Jose, CA, and when not following racing, I like to spend time with my wife, mountain bike, and design high-speed bicycles that I build and race For reference, 55,000 furlongs is the distance from Hong Kong to my home in San Jose. Also, I have 1-year-old dachshund (aka wiener dog) that I am training to race in the annual Wiener Nationals held at Golden Gate Fields.   

 

The purpose of this blog is to help give people the viewpoint of a fan that is newer to the sport and eager to learn. I like to respectfully speak my mind, and often the ideas come out of left field, which could give a fresh perspective on a sport rich with tradition and history. hope to represent the many future fans that I wish to follow my footsteps into the Sport of Kings. 

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