Second favorite Lord Kanaloa, ridden by Yasunari Iwata, exerted a strong late charge, despite the strong crosswind from the approaching typhoon, to capture his first Grade 1 victory in a course-record time of 1:06.7 in Sunday's Sprinters Stakes at Nakayama. His victory prevented stablemate Curren Chan from achieving her third consecutive Grade 1 sprint race victory.
After claiming his first graded victory in the Grade 3 Keihan Hai in November last year, Lord Kanaloa followed up in the Grade 3 Silk Road Stakes and finished third to Curren Chan in his first Grade 1 challenge in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen earlier this season. With a runner-up effort in the Grade 2 Centaur Stakes prior to this win, Lord Kanaloa has an outstanding record with seven wins, two seconds and a third out of 10 starts at this six-furlong trip on turf.
This win marks Iwata's first Sprinters Stakes victory and his fourth Grade 1 win this year, and his 16th career win at the Japan Racing Association's top level. Trainer Takayuki Yasuda achieved a one-two finish and a consecutive Sprinters Stakes victory following last year's win with Curren Chan.
Breaking smoothly from the outermost stall, Lord Kanaloa was eased back by Iwata to mid-division to race behind race favorite Curren Chan, while the front group of three to four horses including Majin Prosper, Dasher Go Go and last year's runner-up Pas de Trois, alternated the lead to set the pace.
As the field of 16 led by Majin Prosper turned through the last corners, Lord Kanaloa traveled wide, still marking Curren Chan in front. Once reaching the top of the homestretch, the King Kamehameha colt surged out together with the defending champion and readily responded to Iwata's urging, running past his rival 100 meters out to a comfortable three-quarter length victory.
"I was determined to do our very best in preparing both Curren Chan and Lord Kanaloa for the race fans that had favored them as race favorite and second favorite," Yasuda said, "and I am very happy to have been able to meet their expectations. To be honest, I wanted them both to win. So it's a mixed feeling to accept the fact that one of them had to defeat the other.
"Lord Kanaloa had just come off a long (three months) spell in his last start (Centaur Stakes) and was a bit slow in responding at the stretch in that race. But he had improved considerably since then, so I was quite confident this time. He gave a great record-breaking performance. I will have to see how he pulls out of this race and future plans will have to be discussed with the owners -- possible overseas challenge included."
"He felt livelier than he was last time out, both in the paddock and the post parade," Iwata noted, "so I was confident that he had plenty to give in the race. Because we started from the outermost stall, I didn't have any specific plan -- played it by ear -- refrained from any rush and concentrated on keeping him in good rhythm. Thankfully for us, the race ran at a very fast pace, making it easier for us to get into the flow of overtaking the early leaders.
"Curren Chan was right in front of me during the whole trip, so it was only natural for us to surge together and rally side-by-side in the final stage," Iwata continued. "At this point, I knew that I still had a lot of horse beneath me and was confident that we got hold of the title. I am thankful to the trainer and his stable staff for conditioning this talented colt to such good form for this race, and I am confident that Lord Kanaloa is capable of competing at an international level overseas -- he has the power, speed and the mentality to stand against the high standard sprinters overseas."
Ninth choice Dream Valentino, who traveled in midfield around 10th from the front, threaded between the horses at the beginning of the homestretch and displayed a convincing late charge to close in on the runner-up Curren Chan to a neck third. Centaur Stakes winner Epice Arome traveled fifth from the rear and ran persistently after turning wide around the corners to finish three-quarters of a length behind Dream Valentino in fourth.
Hong Kong invader Lucky Nine missed his break, traveled third from rear and finished strongly at the homestretch after circling the slower horses in front to the outside to finish fifth, a nose behind Epice Arome.
Lucky Nine's connections were left wondering what might have been.
"He broke in air at the start and missed his break, which cost him the race," jockey Brett Prebble commented. "He also had to angle out around the slower horses in front after racing behind. His turn of speed was so good -- it's really too bad."
"It's a little bit heart-wrenching really because if it hadn't been for the start -- just prior to the jump, he got a little bit nervy -- looking at the replay, he's clearly the winner -- and he was in great form," trainer Caspar Fownes lamented. "And then prior to that corner, he just had to come off that horse's heels and lose another few lengths. He was still just about two lengths off at the 500-meter mark but couldn't get space between horses and had to peel his way around, which cost him again, and was five-lengths off in the 300 meter mark. He gave a strong finish. It's just the start that cost him the race really.
Fellow Hong Kong shipper Little Bridge, winner of the Group 1 King's Stand at Royal Ascot, was run off his feet. He hugged the rail in good position, around fifth from the front, but failed to respond after struggling to keep with the fast pace in the homestretch and finished 10th.
"The pace was too fast for the horse," trainer Danny Shum said. "After his race in June in England, he was away from racing for three months and he wasn't able to regain his fitness to 100 percent."
"The pace run in Japan is so fast -- much faster compared to Hong Kong," jockey Zac Purton said. "The horse was struggling to keep his position. If he had been able to have just one run before coming to this race, it would have been different. To win a race here, you have to be 120 percent fit -- with a long time off after his race in England, even if Danny had his weight back to what he was at Ascot, the fitness was not back to that level."
The other international, Singapore's Captain Obvious, broke sharply and briefly rallied for the lead, but was unable to keep up with the pace. Outrun early, he faded to 15th of 16.