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A Super Saturday for Japanese Horse Racing in Dubai

“As the level of Japanese racehorses has increased over the years, I’ve been really proud to showcase it on the global stage,” trainer Yoshito Yahagi said.



Panthalassa (right), guided by Yutaka Yoshida, competes in the Dubai Turf at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai on March 26. Panthalassa and Lord North (middle) finished in a dead heat, sharing the win.


Japanese horses demonstrated their talent as the collective commitment to excellence shared by their owners, trainers and jockeys produced impressive results on Saturday, March 26 in Dubai.

On a star-studded day for horse racing, eight of nine races at Meydan Racecourse featured an international field of top-class thoroughbreds. The lone exception: the Dubai Kahayla Classic for purebred Arabians.

Japanese-bred horses won four races and shared the title in another.

The 2,000-meter Dubai World Cup concluded the day’s festivities at Meydan Racecourse, with American trainer Bob Baffert’s Country Grammer, ridden by Italian Frankie Dettori, securing a 1¾-length victory over Hot Rod Charlie in 2 minutes, 4.97 seconds. Country Grammer returned to competition after a nine-month layoff following the Saudi Cup in February, where he was the runner-up.

Japan’s Chuwa Wizard, guided by Yuga Kawada, finished third. A year ago, trainer Ryuji Okubo’s stallion was the runner-up in the $12 million USD (¥1.46 billion JPY) race. 

Dettori’s last Dubai World Cup victory was in 2006 at Nad Al Sheba Racecourse, the event’s former home.

“It has been a long time but it is worth it,” Dettori said. “This is my fourth Dubai World Cup win but I have never won at Meydan.”

Kawada said: “It was a good place. He (Chuwa Wizard) was second last year and this year he was third so it was a very strong race and a very good run. He's matched last year's performance today and we're very happy.”

In 2011, Mirco Demuro rode Victoire Pisa, sired by Neo Universe (son of two-time American Triple Crown winner Sunday Silence), to victory in the Dubai World Cup. The Katsuhiko Sumii-trained dark bay colt became the first Japanese horse to win the prestigious race.

On Saturday, a total of 22 Japanese horses competed in the octet of races, starting with Bathrat Leon in the 1,600-meter G2 Godolphin Mile in the late afternoon.

Trainer Yoshito Yahagi’s entry was primed for the challenge. Ryusei Sakai rode Bathrat Leon to a 1¼-length victory on dirt in 1:36.03 over Desert Wisdom. Storm Damage finished third.

The 24-year-old winning jockey was thrilled by the outcome of the race.

“The plan was to go forward and just go quick,” Sakai said. “Everything worked out and the horse kept going. I think he preferred the dirt surface here more than in Japan. Mr. Yahagi is one of the best trainers in the world. It's a great result.”

Yahagi conceded that the outset of the race was the pivotal component of their recipe for victory.

“He’s a good strong front-runner and we know the bends well,” Yahagi said of Bathrat Leon. “So he got a good start and he pushed and he was able to keep it up to the line. We got our tactics right.”

Lemaire, Stay Foolish Win Dubai Gold Cup

After the Godolphin Mile, which started at 8:20 PM JST, the Dubai Gold Cup began about 30 minutes later. Again, the results were superb for Japan’s racing representatives.

French jockey Christophe Lemaire, a prolific winner on the Japan Racing Association circuit for many years, and 4-year-old Stay Foolish teamed up for a triumph in the G2 Dubai Gold Cup, a 3,200-meter turf race.

Stay Foolish, also trained by Yahagi, clocked 3:19.64, beating Irish gelding Manobo by a half-length. 

Trainer Naosuke Sugai’s Veloce Oro, with Mirco Demuro holding the reins, placed seventh.

“He didn’t break as fast as he did in Saudi [Arabia] so I was behind a good horse but happy to be on the inside,” Lemaire told reporters later. “He doesn’t have a big turn of foot and I thought the potatoes were done, but in the end he outstayed them. I think he could run in any Group One [race], anywhere.”

In the Al Quoz Sprint, Cristian Demuro placed ninth aboard Lauda Sion, trainer Takashi Saito’s entry in the 1,200-meter, G1 race. Another Yahagi horse, Entscheiden, finished 12th. Ireland’s Ronan Whelan and Case of You were the winning tandem.

In the UAE Derby, trainer Koichi Shintani’s Crown Pride outsprinted Summer Is Tomorrow to the finish by 2¾ lengths, winning the 1,900-meter event in 1:59.76. 

With the victory, Aussie jockey Damian Lane’s ride, the 3-year-old son of Reach the Crown, qualified to compete in the Kentucky Derby.

"I was very confident turning in from about the [600-meters remaining mark)," Lane commented in a post-race interview with reporters. "He just leveled out as I turned in about 300 [meters to go]. I began to worry but when [Summer Is Tomorrow] got tired, he didn't."

Among the 16 entrants, Japan’s Reiwa Homare (Lemaire), Sekifu (Cristian Demuro) and Combustion (William Buick) were sixth, eighth and 11th, respectively.

Tadhg O’Shea guided 8-year-old Switzerland to a 1¾-length win over Michihiro Ogasa-trained Red Le Zele (Yuga Kawada) in the G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen, reaching the wire in 1:11.13. In doing so, Switzerland became the oldest winner in race history.

Trainer Takayuki Yasuda’s Chain of Love (Sakai) placed fourth in the 1,200-meter race on dirt.

Evaluating Red Le Zele’s performance, Kawada said he was pleased, calling it a “good result.”

"He likes to do his running at the back of the field in a 1,200-meter race,” Kawada commented, according to bloodhorse.com. “That's just his style and he did the same here, and I had a very good feeling about him doing well going into this but there was too much ground to make up in the end. But it was a good race and I'm happy with the way he went."

Lord North, Panthalassa Finish in Dead Heat in Dubai Turf

Dettori and Yutaka Yoshida and their respective rides ― Lord North and Panthalassa ― delivered a memorable duel in the Dubai Turf. When the $5 million USD (¥609.5 JPY), 1,800-meter race was done, it was declared a dead heat. The winning time: 1:45.77.

Trainer Hideaki Fujiwara’s Vin De Garde (Frenchman Mickael Barzalona) placed third, a nose behind the winners.

Said Yoshida: “It was a very good run from my horse and he did all that I asked of him and only just managed to hold on in the end. This was a very good run from him. I am happy.”

Yahagi, who also trains Panthalassa, discussed the significance of the day’s results while adding context to the rise of Japanese horse racing on a global scale.

“We’ve had a lot of good luck today so we didn’t think we’d lose!” Yahagi told reporters. “I’ve never known a wait like that in a photo finish.

“As the level of Japanese racehorses has increased over the years, I’ve been really proud to showcase it on the global stage.”

Aboard German horse Schnell Meister, trained by Takahisa Tezuka, Lemaire placed eighth in the 14-equine field.

A Quintet of Japanese Horses in Dubai Sheema Classic

In the Dubai Sheema Classic, one-third of the 15 horses were foaled in Japan: Authority (trainer Tetsuya Kimura), Glory Vase (Tomohito Ozeki), Shahryar (Fujiwara), Stella Veloce (Naosuke Sugai) and Uberleben (Tezuka).

Cristian Demuro and Shahryar were clocked in 2:26.88 over 2,410 meters to claim the $6 million USD (¥731.4 million JPY) top prize, beating Yibir by a neck’s length.

Authority (Lemaire) was third, a half-length behind the runner-up. Uberleben (Lane) finished fifth, Glory Vase (Christophe Soumillion) was eighth and Stella Veloce (Mirco Demuro) ninth.

Author: Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward's [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays, in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven, and find him on JAPAN Forward’s dedicated sports website, SportsLook.