Darkhorses Hishi Miracle and Sunrise Jaeger turned the tables on the top picks May 4 at Kyoto with a one-two surprise finish in the spring Emperor's Cup (Jpn-I).
Seventh pick Hishi Miracle (Soccer Boy--Shunsaku Yoshiko, by Shady Heights), a longshot when he captured last October's Kikkasho (Japanese St. Leger), returned to the Kyoto winner's circle after a three-race losing streak by topping the 18-strong field of Japan's most prestigious group I by half a length.
Sunrise Jaeger (Real Shadai--Yamano Tosho, by Tosho Boy) was even more of a surprise, as race eighth choice, when he went neck and neck with heavy favorite Daitaku Bertram to win the battle for second by a neck. Tsurumaru Boy finished in fourth place, with Dantsu Flame, the only other group I winner in the lineup, next over the line.
An early slow pace saw the top finishers toward the rear of the field until late in the 3,200-meter race. Koichi Tsunoda, on Hishi Miracle, moved first.
"I thought if I could just bring him up gradually and reach the top by the stretch we'd have a chance," the 33-year-old jockey said. "He can really stay and he gives you all he's got. We weren't a popular pick but I thought we had a chance at Kyoto and at 3,200 meters."
Tsunoda's hunch was on the money. To plan, Hishi Miracle went wide around the bend and, while Daitaku Bertram was getting squeezed on the inside, grabbed the lead and held it with no serious threat from behind. "Having moved early, I was worried, of course, that I'd be caught, but it was my only chance. Things turned out well," Tsunoda said with candor.
It was the first win of the Emperor's Cup for both Tsunoda and trainer Masaru Sayama. "I didn't believe he was going to win it until he was over the line," Sayama said. "This is just fantastic. People said it was too hard a schedule but I believed it was right for him," Sayama said of his gray colt. "I am just so happy I could cry."
The 60-year-old Ritto-based trainer, who had sworn to shave his head if Hishi Miracle didn't make it into the top three, opened himself up to further criticism when he revealed that he plans to run his stayer in the 1,600-meter Yasuda Memorial June 8 at Tokyo.
Hishi Miracle was bred at Otsuka Farm in Mitsuishi, Hokkaido, and purchased at a Shizunai training sale by Masaichiro Abe, 65, for ¥6.5 million. With five wins in 21 starts, he has now accumulated nearly ¥337 million in prize money, more than 50 times his purchase price. The win of the Emperor's Cup was worth ¥132 million.
Hishi Miracle clocked 3:17, nearly three seconds off the race record, over firm turf.