Tap Dance City found the boggy Tokyo race course turf to his liking on Sunday, romping to a nine-length victory in the $4-million Japan Cup (Jpn-I) and fulfilling a career-long dream for jockey Tetsuzo Sato and trainer Shouzou Sasaki.
Sato sent Tap Dance City straight to the lead when the gates opened for the 12-furlong turf fixture, controlled a slow pace, opened a commanding lead before reaching the far turn, then had plenty left in the tank for the stretch run. He set fractions of :24.60 for the opening 400 meters, :50.10 for 800, 1:14.10 for 1,200, 1:39.10 for 1,600, 2:03.30 for 2,000, and completed the journey in 2:28.70 for the 2,400 meters. (Each 200 meters is equivalent to one furlong.)
Symboli Kris S., third in the 2002 Japan Cup and the country's reigning Horse of the Year, was the even-money favorite but could do no better than third again this year. He finished three-quarters of a length behind That's the Plenty, who was closest to the pacesetter throughout. Completing the order of finish was Neo Universe, Active Bio, Tiger Tail, Ange Gabriel, Denon, Islington, Derby Regno, Sunrise Pegasus, Ana Marie, Slew Valley, Sakura President, Tsurumaru Boy, Johar, Sarafan, and Fields of Omagh.
Jockey Corey Nakatani said Denon handled the soft going well enough but tired in the stretch after moving into a contending position in the final three-eighths. "He ran well considering how long he's been off and how tiring that soft ground was," Nakatani said.
Trainer Gary Sciacca said he thought when the field made its way to the top of the stretch that Slew Valley had a realistic chance to win. "He was really moving," Sciacca said. "Then all of a sudden he just stopped. I think he must have bled."
Neither Johar nor Sarafan handled the soft footing. Jockey Alex Solis said Johar, dead-heat winner of the John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT), slipped with about five-eighths of a mile to run and again inside the half-mile marker. "His front foot went one way and rear foot went another way," Solis said. "I think that kind of scared him. He never extended himself after that."
Trainer Neil Drysdale said Sarafan had no chance to emulate his 2002 Japan Cup performance when he was second, beaten just a nose by Falbrav, on firm turf. "We knew going in he couldn't handle this kind of turf," Drysdale said. "We checked the 10-day forecast before shipping and there was no prospects of rain. Rain is very unusual this time of year in Tokyo and it was unfortunate for Sarafan."
The winner, a 6-year-old son of Pleasant Tap out of All Dance, by Northern Dancer, was bred in Kentucky by Don Sucher's Echo Valley Horse Farm and Swettenham Stud. All Dance, who died in 1998, is a half sister to 1988 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Winning Colors, who like Tap Dance City won her big race going wire to wire. Tap Dance City was purchased privately as a foal and races for the Yushun Racehorse Club, a partnership with dozens of participants.
The victory was a Japan Cup weekend sweep for Lane's End farm sires. Both Pleasant Tap and Smart Strike, sire of Japan Cup Dirt (Jpn-I) winner Fleetstreet Dancer, stand at the Versailles, Ky. farm, owned by Will Farish, the U.S. Ambassador to England.
Sasaki remembers watching Mairzy Doates win the first Japan Cup and made victory in the race one of his career goals as a trainer. Jockey Sato also made the Japan Cup his goal while attending jockey school. He realized once his career began how difficult it would be to achieve that victory. Now, however, both he and Sasaki can say they have lived their dream.