Just a Way stole the show from favorite and reigning horse of the year Gentildonna with a phenomenal run to win the Tenno-sho on Sunday for his first Grade 1 title.
The 4-year-old Just a Way, who went off as the fifth choice, lifted the Emperor’s Cup over Gentildonna for a dominant four-length victory over 2,000 meters before a roaring crowd of 92,000-plus at Tokyo Racecourse.
The Yuichi Fukunaga-ridden Just a Way tore through the last three furlongs in 34.6 seconds, almost a full second faster than anyone else in the field of 17.
The margin of victory was the second largest in fall Tenno-sho history. Just a Way’s winning time was 1 minute, 57.5 seconds, 1.4 seconds off the race record set by Tosen Jordan two years ago.
“He responded incredibly well on the straight,” Fukunaga said. “In fact, he quickened so fast I didn’t think he would last until the end.”
“I didn’t even see (Gentildonna). He literally moved in front in a heartbeat.”
Defending champion Eishin Flash was third, and second pick Tokei Halo, who scorched the pace early on, finished 10th.
The 4-year-old Gentildonna, last season’s Japan Cup winner and the filly’s Triple Crown champion, surprisingly traveled in second position behind Yutaka Take’s Tokei Halo, after being pushed out toward the front of the pack.
By the time she turned for home, the filly didn’t have enough left to keep up with Just a Way on the punishing half-a-kilometer straight at the Fuchu track.
“She got too good of a start,” said Gentildonna’s rider Yasunari Iwata. “When you jump out that well, it’s tough to drop her back into midfield.”
“You have to credit the winning horse; he was awesome. The going was fine, the turf was dry. My horse was relaxed and I really wanted to help her win.”
Fukunaga and trainer Naosuke Sugai both won the race for their first time.
Life couldn’t be better for the 36-year-old Fukunaga, who leads the nation in wins — and whose wife is expecting their first child in March.
Fukunaga was also coming off a victory aboard Epiphaneia in last week’s Kikka-sho, the third leg in the Japanese Triple Crown.
“It’s the ultimate reward for a jockey,” Fukunaga said of capturing his first Tenno-sho. “Last year when the Emperor was here, I wanted to win the race so badly. This isn’t your ordinary G1 race.”
“People have been telling me good things happen when your wife is pregnant. The way things have been turning out, maybe I should keep her pregnant.”
“I’ll see what my wife says about that.”
Just a Way, by Heart’s Cry out of Sibyl, is 3-for-16 for his career with earnings of just under ¥300 million. The Tenno-sho was only his second graded title.
Hopes will be high for the colt to run in the 2,400-meter Japan Cup on Nov. 24 also at Tokyo. But with Sugai saying his best distance is at around 1,800 meters, the Nov. 17 Mile Championship at Kyoto looks more likely.