Two days after his 43rd birthday, Christophe Lemaire collected his 41st overall Japan Racing Association Grade I victory.
In doing so, he guided Stars on Earth for the first time in a race on Sunday, May 22, in the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks).
It was a quintessential Lemaire-esque victory, the veteran jockey biding his time for the opportune moment to make a strategic move for the lead late in the 2,400-meter race at Tokyo Racecourse. Stars on Earth was racing at that distance for the first time, but she was ready for the challenge.
In short, Lemaire saved Stars on Earth’s best for last. The Duramante-sired dark bay horse, the third favorite, ran a rapid 33.7 seconds over the final three furlongs. (See the race here.)
Nobody was faster when it mattered most, and nobody outmaneuvered Lemaire.
Stars on Earth reached the wire in 2 minutes, 23.9 seconds, becoming the 16th horse to win the first two legs of the Japanese Fillies’ Triple Crown.
On April 10, Yuga Kawada rode Stars on Earth to victory in the first leg, the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas), at Hanshin Racecourse.
On Sunday, 10th favorite Stunning Rose, Damian Lane’s ride, placed second, 1¼ lengths behind.
Finishing third was Namur (Takeshi Yokoyama), another 1¼ lengths back, followed by Pin High (Ryo Takakura) and Presage Lift (Keita Tosaki).
Race favorite Circle of Life (Mirco Demuro) came in 12th. She was near the back of the pack for most of the race.
Calculated Move to the Front
Nishino Love Wink (Kosei Miura) set the pace early on and led by five lengths before Personal High (Yutaka Yoshida) and Art House (Kawada) closed the gap on the front-runner.
The trio held the top three spots for most of the race, while Stars on Earth settled near the middle of the pack.
With 500 meters remaining, it appeared that Art House might pull in front. But Stars on Earth, running in the middle, galloped past the aforementioned contenders, seizing the moment and the lead with 100 meters remaining and edging Stunning Rose. Nishino Love Wink placed eighth overall.
Mizuki Takayanagi, Stars on Earth’s trainer, opted to give the starting assignment to Lemaire for the Yushun Himba.
The move paid off.
Kawada had a seventh-place finish with Art House, the second favorite and trainer Mitsumasa Nakauchida’s entry.
Stars on Earth commanded the top prize of ¥140 million JPY (about $1,218,000 USD) and remains in the running to win the Triple Crown this fall. The third race, the 2,000-meter Shuka Sho, is on October 16 at Hanshin Racecourse.
Big Crowd, Good Racing Atmosphere
“I am really thrilled to have won in front of a big crowd today. It’s really not fun to win with an empty stand so I appreciate all you fans for coming,” Lemaire said after the race, which was held in front of 30,552 spectators.
It was Lemaire’s third Yushun Himba triumph after previous wins in 2017 (Soul Stirring) and 2018 (Almond Eye).
“The filly was in great condition coming into the race but it requires a lot of effort to start from an outside draw, so I was easy with her early," Lemaire said of Stars on Earth. "She stayed calm and responded really well in the closing stages so I was happy. It was her first attempt at 2,400 meters, but her pedigree showed that she should be up in terms of stamina so I thought it shouldn’t be a problem.”
After the win in Sunday’s Yushun Himba for Stars on Earth and Lemaire, expect the duo to team up again for the Shuka Sho.
“She’s already won at 1,600 meters and shown to handle 2,400 meters, so I think she has a pretty good chance to win her third G1 triple over 2,000 meters,” Lemaire said.
In 2020, Daring Tact became the first unbeaten Triple Crown filly champion and the sixth overall winner of the three prestigious races.
The 83rd Yushun Himba started 15 minutes late at 3:55 PM after Sound Vivace, who was assigned the No. 7 post position, broke loose before the scheduled start time and ran around the track before being corralled. Sound Vivace didn't participate in the race, reducing it to a 17-horse field.
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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.