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HORSE RACING | Christophe Lemaire, Cafe Pharoah Ride to Victory in February Stakes

The son of American Pharoah, the 2015 American Triple Crown winner, won the year’s first Japan Racing Association Grade I race.

Ed Odeven

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Cafe Pharoah, ridden by Christophe Lemaire, stayed within striking distance of the leader for the majority of February Stakes, this year’s first Japan Racing Association Grade I race.

The son of American Pharoah, the 2015 American Triple Crown winner, then found an extra burst of speed over the final 400 meters of the 1,600-meter race on the dirt turf at Tokyo Racecourse. Lemaire’s strategy paid off in a 3/4-length victory over Air Spinel on Sunday, February 21.

Cafe Pharoah, who turns 4 on March 3, completed the race in 1 minute 34.4 seconds, with the runner-up, ridden by Katsuma Sameshima, clocking 1:34.5. Jockey Norihiro Yokoyama was another 1 3/4 lengths behind to finish third in 1:34.8, followed by Red le Zele (Yuga Kawada) and Air Almas (Kohei Matsuyama) in 1:34.9 and 1:35.1, respectively. Inti, the 2019 Tokyo Stakes winner, placed sixth.

Bursting into the fray from stall three, Cafe Pharoah was right behind Air Almas, Helios and Wide Pharaoh a few seconds later.

Galloping ahead from the inside, Cafe Pharoah maintained a steady pace as the race unfolded. Cafe Pharoah never slipped toward the middle or back of the pack in the 16-horse field, which featured ¥216 million JPY ($2.05 million USD) in prize money.

Instead, Lemaire and Cafe Pharoah stayed the course, exhibiting patience and fortitude.

As the horses galloped and made the turn toward the final stretch, Cafe Pharoah sat in fourth place. But not for long.

Urged on by Lemaire, the bay colt kept pushing ahead.

Air Almas’ lead dwindled as Cafe Pharoah inched closer toward the front. Making his move with impeccable timing from the outside, Cafe Pharoah pulled ahead a few hundred meters before the finish line and held off the late-charging Air Spinel. At the same time, Air Almas faded down the stretch. Watch the race here.

“His condition was super, and I had confidence already at the paddock,” the victorious jockey said after the race. “We decided to use cheek pieces hoping for a more aggressive performance. His start was good, we were positioned well and he responded beautifully. 

“The colt has such high potential. I had no doubt that he could land a G1 win if he gave his best. I’m happy that it all worked out today.”

For the French jockey, Sunday’s triumph produced his 36th career JRA Grade 1 win.

It was Lemaire’s first G1 triumph since riding Almond Eye to victory in the Japan Cup on November 29, 2020, in the final race of the 5-year-old’s career. 

For trainer Noriyuki Hori, it was victory No. 13 on the domestic circuit in G1 events, and first since Salios won the Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes on December 15, 2019, at Hanshin Racecourse.

Japanese Horses Win a Pair of Saudi Cup Races

In the second annual Saudi Cup, two Japanese horses earned victories on Saturday, February 20.

In the 1,600-meter Saudi Derby, Pink Kamehameha led wire to wire in the 12-horse race at King Abdul Aziz Racecourse in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Keita Tosaki enjoyed the winning ride aboard the horse that started from the No. 8 gate.

“I was riding him for the first time in a race,” Tosaki said, referring to Pink Kamehameha. “He felt good and it was a fantastic run for his first time over dirt. He has always been good at the break and today too he was away smartly.”

Nearly an hour later, Japanese horses Copano Kicking and Matera Sky placed first and second in the 1,200-meter Riyadh Dirt Sprint. Six-year-old gelding Copano Kicking, ridden by British jockey William Buick rallied for the win and held off Tosaki and Matera Sky by a 1/4-length margin.

“He was slowly away but I was soon on the tails of the leaders coming into the bend and he picked up really well,” Buick commented.

Competing outside of Japan for the first time, winning trainer Akira Murayama enjoyed the experience despite the uncertainties that were involved.

“It was my first overseas bid so I didn’t have experience,” Maruyama said after the race. “I did my best, doing what I would normally do back in Japan.

“I didn’t know if the Saudi Arabian course would suit him or not but I’m so glad he won.”


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.

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Ed Odeven is a longtime sports journalist who previously worked for The Japan Times as its chief basketball reporter for nearly 14 years. He also covered a wide range of other sports for the newspaper, including at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Games. A graduate of Arizona State University, Odeven worked for several newspapers in the Grand Canyon State before moving to Japan. He has freelanced for dozens of media outlets around the world.