Eighth pick Eishin Champ (Mi Cielo-Eishin Michigan, by Manila) pulled off a record-setting upset Dec. 8 and gave rider Yuichi Fukunaga his second group I win in a week with a neck win over Sakura President in Japan's 2-year-old colts' showcase, the Asahi Cup Futurity Stakes (Jpn-I).
Race favorite Sakura President (Sunday Silence--Sedan Forever, by Maruzensky) drew cries of dismay when he launched himself up and out of the gate at the break. His lack of horizontal progress put him immediately at the back of the field of 15 and canceled out any advantage he may have gained from his No. 2 post position in the 1,600-meter (1 mile) race over slightly soft going at Nakayama.
The race heated up quickly as popular picks Meiner Morgen, under Olivier Peslier, and Silent Deal, with Yutaka Take up, set a brisk pace out front, pulling the field over the first 1,000 meters (5 furlongs) in 56.9 seconds. Fukunaga kept within striking distance two lengths behind the frontrunners, while Sakura President moved determinedly up the ranks in a bid to make up his lost time.
Turning neatly into the stretch, Eishin Champ caught and passed a fading Silent Deal at the 200-meter mark but Sakura President was closing with authority and looked sure to pass Eishin Champ. When the two lined up, however, Eishin Champ refused to relinquish his hold on the crown and crossed the line a neck in front. T.M. Rikisan (Taiki Shuttle-Rikisan Flash, by Flash of Steel) finished in third place, a neck behind the runner-up.
Eishin Champ's winning time of 1:33.5 bettered the race and course record set by Grass Wonder five years ago by one-tenth of a second.
"He was flat out at the end but he held on. He's some horse." said Fukunaga, who was celebrating the victory on the eve of his 26th birthday. After Peace of World's win of the previous week's Juvenile Fillies, Fukunaga became the first jockey to win both top 2-year-old races in the same year.
Eishin Champ runs under the colors of Toyomitsu Hirai, whose Eishin Preston is set to compete in the Hong Kong Mile Dec. 15. Eishin Champ is trained by the Ritto-based trainer Tsutomu Setoguchi, 62. The colt was born in the United States at Columbiana Farm.
The victory was the colt's first in graded company. Previously, the colt produced from the Manila mare Eishin Michigan was victorious in the Kyoto Nisal Stakes. Eishin Champ has now won three of nine career starts, with four ruenner-up efforts, with converted earnings of $861,789 for trainer Tsutomu Setoguchi.
The winner was bred in Kentucky by Colunbiana Farm.