The 53rd running of the Yasuda Memorial (Jpn-I) at Tokyo June 8 saw fourth-pick Agnes Digital back at the top after a stretch rally that put him over the line a neck ahead of Admire Max (Sunday Silence--Dyna Shoot, by Northern Taste) in record time.
It was the sixth group I victory for the Crafty Prospector-sired Agnes Digital, his second time out after being sidelined for a year due to injury.
The winning time of 1:32.1 over 1,600 meters of turf toppled by three-tenths of a second the race record set in 1990 by Oguri Cap.
Race favorite Lohengrin (Singspiel--Carling Garde Royale, by Corraleja) finished third, three-quarters of a length later, followed closely by Eagle Cafe (Gulch--Net Dancer, by Nureyev.)
Agnes Digital bested an all Japan-based field of 17, reduced by one after Dantsu Judge stumbled shortly out of the gate unseating his rider. Neither horse nor jockey were injured.
After managing only a fourth-place finish last time out, many doubted whether the group I champion would return to his former heights. Support at the betting windows sank, with Agnes Digital going off the fourth choice. Jockey Hirofumi Shii, however, who claimed the Yasuda went exactly to plan, said he had never stopped believing in the 6-year-old. "His fourth last time didn't bother me. I could feel he still had it.
''He runs a clever race,'' Shii, 30, said of the American-born Agnes Digital, who won the Hong Kong Cup at Sha Tin in 2001. Agnes Digital raced the following year in Dubai and once again in Hong Kong before being taken out of action due to injury. ''He has raced all over and handles everything very well. Mentally he's a very strong horse,'' Shii said.
Agnes Digital is owned by Takao Watanabe, 74, who made the trip from Osaka to attend the race in Tokyo. Watanabe, a longtime fan of Hong Kong singer Agnes Chan, names all his horses, male or female, with ''Agnes.'' Agnes Digital also captured the Mile Championship in 2000, the fall Emperor's Cup in '01 and last year's February Stakes, one of only two group Is run over dirt in Japan.
Agnes Digital (Crafty Prospector--Chancey Squaw, by Chief's Crown) has accumulated over ¥9 billion in earnings after 12 wins in 27 starts. He is trained by the Ritto-based Toshiaki Shirai. The win of the Yasuda Memorial was worth ¥94 million.