Former American claimer Lord Sterling gave his connections a thrill as he battled for the lead on the turn for home in the first running of the Japan Cup Dirt (Jpn-I) at Tokyo Race Course on Saturday, but Ron and Susie Anson's gutty Black Tie Affair gelding was overtaken in midstretch by a pair of Japanese runners, winding up third behind Wing Arrow and Sanford City in the 1 5/16-mile event. The only other foreign entrant in the 16-horse field was Frank Stronach's Euchre, who finished eighth for trainer Robert Frankel after being well-placed for most of the running.
Jose Valdivia was expected to have Lord Sterling on the lead early for trainer Alfredo Marquez, but Japanese speedster Regular Member went to the front and set quick early fractions of :28.9 for the first 2 1/2 furlongs, :23.2 for the next two furlongs and :23.8 for the two furlongs after that, meaning the opening 6 1/2 furlongs were run in 1:15.9. Lord Sterling was in second, just a couple of lengths behind the leader, and it was another five or six lengths back to a pack of four horses that included the Bobby Frankel-trained Euchre, who raced along the rail under David Flores. Wing Arrow raced along the inside several lengths farther back but moved into a contending position around the far turn.
When Regular Member started to weaken at the top of the long stretch, with the first 1 1/16 miles run in 1:41.7, Valdivia went to work on Lord Sterling, who fought head and head for the lead for several strides. The late-running Wing Arrow then came along and swept past the top two to win by 3 1/2 lengths, stopping the timer in 2:07.2, a new track record. Sanford City also finished strongly to be three lengths clear of Lord Sterling, who was claimed in his second career start by the Ansons for $50,000. Preeminence finished fourth and favored Fast Friend was fifth. Flores attempted to put Euchre into contention near the top of the stretch, and the Personal Flag gelding briefly responded before flattening out. He was beaten a total of 12 3/4 lengths.
Ron Anson, who has a large claiming stable in Southern California with Marquez as his private trainer, was thrilled by the outcome. "Every once in a while the little guys get to have a small taste of success," he said. "This has been the greatest experience I've ever had in racing. Nothing else even comes close."
The winner is a 5-year-old Japanese bred son of Assatis who was winning for the 10th time in 24 starts. Owned by Minoru Ikeda, Wing Arrow is trained by former jockey Katsumi Minai and was ridden to victory by the longtime Japanese champion jockey Yukio Okabe. The victory was worth $1.2 million to the winner. Lord Sterling earned approximately $314,000 for finishing third, more than doubling his career earnings.
Saturday's crowd was about 80,000, roughly half the number that is expected on Sunday when 16 runners compete in the 20th running of the Japan Cup, a mile and a half turf race. In advance wagering on the Japan Cup, Japanese star T.M. Opera O was made the 3-10 favorite. American runners were not given much consideration in the wagering, with John's Call at 47-1 and Timboroa 75-1. Fantastic Light was the most fancied European runner, at 15-1.