Nakayama Racecourse was host to another group I event over the Easter weekend. April 19 saw the fifth running of the Nakayama Grand Jump, (Jpn-I) an international invitational whose field of 16 this year included six foreign participants representing four countries.
Australia's St. Steven failed in his bid for back-to-back wins as the Japan-based Big Taste (Northern Taste -- Crafty Wife, by Crafty Prospector) took home the ¥80 million winner's share, topping the field by 1 1/2 lengths over race favorite Gilded Age (Timber Country -- Mont Tayhala, by Northern Taste). The 9-year-old gelding St. Steven (Hula Town -- Gabby, by In the Purple), despite a strong showing, finished in third place five lengths off the winner.
St. Steven took the lead from the fifth jump of 11, where, jockey Brett Scott said, "I really didn't want to be." In last year's winning run, Scott and St. Steven had stayed to the rear of the field. This year, however, "the speed was slower and he jumped too well. We were making two lengths on every jump," Scott said.
Big Taste, on the other hand, was running easily far to the back of the field and didn't start to move forward until the last few jumps. At the final jump, Gilded Age took the lead. after which Big Taste caught St. Steven, then easily passed Gilded Age with about 75 meters to go.
''He really hangs to the right and I had my hands full trying to straighten him,'' said Tsuneishi of Big Taste. Tsuneishi, who had made a miraculous comeback after being severely injured in a fall seven years ago, was also battling the pain of a broken collarbone not fully healed.
''I knew he'd have a good kick in the finish, so I was counting on that,'' Tsuneishi said, ''but I really didn't know if we were going to win it till the very end.''
The Tadashi Nakao-trained Big Taste, the race's fourth choice, clocked 4:48.9 over the 4,250-meter course. The 5-year-old was sired by Northern Taste, the stallion Katsumi Yoshida's Northern Farm was built on. Retired from stud duty in 1999, the elderly stallion sired Big Taste at the impressive age of 27.
The other foreign runners in the international invitational fared poorly, with Escort Boy from France turning in the best performance after St. Steven in 10th place. England's Armaturk and Tiutchev finished 13th and 14th, respectively, with France's Tiger Groom in 15th place, New Zealand's Silky Archer coming in last.