Heavily favored Japanese-bred Kane Hekili emerged from a three-horse, head-bobbing finish to narrowly win the Japan Cup Dirt (Jpn-I) over American-breds Seeking the Dia and Star King Man at Tokyo Race Course Saturday. The win gave leading jockey Yutaka Take his 200th victory of 2005 and his 11th group/grade I win of the year.
American runners Lava Man and Tap Day fared poorly, finishing 11th and 13th, respectively, with the other foreign entrant, Eccentric from Great Britain, finishing last in the 16-horse field. Lava Man emerged from the race with a bloodied left front foot that his jockey, Corey Nakatani, said was the result of a frog that popped off less than midway through the 1 5/16-mile race.
Kane Hekili, a 3-year-old by the Sunday Silence stallion Fuji Kiseki out of Life Out There, by Deputy Minister, was installed as the 11-10 favorite after winning six of eight starts in 2005, including a four-length win in the Japan Dirt Derby. He came into the Japan Cup Dirt off a loss in a one-mile race, shorter than his preferred distance.
Take placed Kane Hekili in mid-pack early, while Utopia set a rapid pace, under hot pursuit from Seeking the Dia and jockey Norihiro Yokoyama. He swung wide on the final turn and engaged Seeking the Dia and Star King Man, who got a dream trip on the inside from Kent Desormeaux. They battled down the stretch, with Star King Man on the rail, Seeking the Dia between horses, and Kane Hekili to the outside. Seeking the Dia and Kane Hekili edged to the front in the shadow of the finish, with Kane Hekili winning by a nose. Star King Man was a neck back in third. Seeking the Dia and Star King Man are both trained by Hideyuki Mori.
Final time was 2:08 flat for the 2,100 meters on the sandy dirt surface that was labeled fast.
There was no celebration by Take after the horses crossed the finish. "I congratulated Yokoyama, thinking he had won," Take said later.
This has been another exceptional year for the Japanese star rider, but 2005 has been kind to Kane Hekili's other connections, too. Owner Makoto Kaneko campaigns Japanese Triple Crown winner Deep Impact, a Sunday Silence colt who is bypassing Sunday's Japan Cup (Jpn-I) on turf to prep for the season-ending Arima Kinen (Jpn-I) at Nakayama Race Course. Kane Hekili's trainer, Katsuhiko Sumii, also conditions Cesario, the brilliant Special Week filly who came to the United States in July to win the American Oaks (gr. IT). Breeder Northern Farm (which purchased Kane Hekili's dam at the 1999 Keeneland January Horses of All Ages Sale for $270,000) is leading breeder in Japan for the second consecutive year.
Sumii said Kane Hekili was finished for the year and had no specific plans for 2006, though an appearance in either Dubai or the United States was an option that owner Kanoko could consider
The top three finishers were followed in order by Time Paradox, Sunrise Bacchus, Shirokita God Run, Saqalot, Utopia, Higher Game, Adjudi Mitsuo, Lava Man, Gene Crisis, Tap Day, Personal Rush, Hishi Atlas, and Eccentric.
The Japan Cup winner took home first prize of approximately $1.1 million from the total purse of $2.2 million. Attendance was 56,251 and handle on the race was approximately $95 million. JRA officials said about $170 million was bet on the 12-race program.