With all eyes on the top picks and the pressure off, dark-horse Hishi Miracle did it again, turned the tables to capture yet another group I, his third, the Takarazuka Memorial June 29 at Hanshin Racecourse.
Race eighth choiceTsurumaru (Dance in the Dark--Tsurumaru Girl, by Soccer Boy) finished a neck later in second, his second year in a row as runner-up. American-bred Tap Dance City (Pleasant Tap--All Dance, by Northern Dancer) finished in third place, 1 1/2 lengths later.
The last big race until fall, the Takarazuka failed yet again to attract any foreign-based runners, despite its new $1 million bonus scheme. However, it did attract one of its strongest fields in recent years, a lineup of 17, elected in part by fan ballot, that included 2002 Horse of the Year Symboli Kris S. and this year's Satsukisho and Nippon Derby winner, Neo Universe, as well as six other group I winners.
A far sixth pick, Japan-bred Hishi Miracle (Soccer Boy--Shunsaku Yoshiko, by Shady Heights) surprised even his trainer with the win. The 60-year-old Masaru Sayama said he couldn't believe his eyes when his 4-year-old colt crossed the line.
"I turned to the people next to me in the stands and asked them, 'Did Hishi Miracle really just win?' " His third group I after last year's Kikkasho and this year's spring Emperor's Cup, Hishi Miracle showed he was not just a stayer but could ace the mid-distances as well, even in the best of company.
"I had high hopes of course but the field was a lot stronger than his last time out," Sayama admitted. "I was just looking forward to seeing what he could do."
Jockey Koichi Tsunoda, 32, said he had had confidence in the colt all the way. Tsunoda brought Hishi Miracle slowly up around the bend from a mid-field position, then went wide to the center of the homestretch where the going was good. He reached the front halfway down the stretch with over 250 meters to go and continued strongly on home for the win. "I am overjoyed. It is such a great feeling to have won in this company," Tsunoda said afterward.
The presence of big names and the first Derby winner to take on the Takarazuka as a 3-year-old were factors cited behind the sharp rise in attendance, at close to 77,000, up over 35% from last year. Turnover on the race as well, at ¥27 billion, enjoyed an increase of nearly 50% over last year's figures.
Hishi Miracle was bred at Otsuka Farm in Hokkaido's Mitsuishi and is owned by Masaichiro Abe. He is now six for 22, with winnings of over ¥470 million. The Takarazuka carried a first-place purse of ¥132 million. Winning time was 2:12 over firm turf.