Favorite Admire Don, returning to the track for the first time since his near miss of the Nov. 29 Japan Cup Dirt (Jpn-I), powered to a half-length win of the February Stakes (Jpn-I) Feb. 22. He held off a late bid by Silent Deal (Sunday Silence--Fairy Doll, by Nureyev). Sterling Rose (Afleet--Comaz, by Danzig) and Mitsuaki Turbine (Lively Mount--Kanemi Turbine, by Swift Swallow) finished third and fourth, respectively.
Breaking from the No. 10 post, rider Katsumi Ando allowed Admire Don (Timber Country--Vega, by Tony Bin) to move to the outside as the race crawled over the first three furlongs in :35.8, the second-slowest start to a group I in Japan in some seven years.
"He's not a very good starter," Ando admitted. "But he was very relaxed, so much so that I was worried at first. He felt good though, supple and powerful."
Ando said he was more worried about failing to get a clear run. Seeing the early slow place Ando made the decision to move to the outside, and, confident in Admire Don's ability, was not worried about covering the extra distance.
"He tends to lose interest when he gets out in front alone so I held back," the rider said.
Admire Don remained 10 lengths off the top going into the bend, and then moved up slowly as the field rounded for home. With 100 meters left to go Ando let fly with the whip and Admire Don answered with a surge of power that sent him past Sterling Rose and Mitsuaki Turbine and into the lead with nine strides to go.
''He was a different horse from the Japan Cup Dirt,'' Ando said post-race. "He has matured mentally and physically." Admire Don was nosed out of the Japan Cup Dirt winner's circle last year by Fleetstreet Dancer.
The 5-year-old Admire Don was bred at Northern Farm in Hokkaido and is owned by Riichi Kondo. Admire Don's winning time over 1,600 meters of dirt was 1:36.8.
The Ritto-based bay, named dirt champion of 2003, is trained by Hiroyoshi Matsuda, 58. Admire Don will leave March 19 for the United Arab Emirates to participate in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) on March 27, as will the Kojiro Hashiguchi-trained Utopia.
Utopia, who holds the 1,600-meter record at Tokyo, was forced onto the rail in the final bend of the February Stakes and was unable to get a clear run, finishing in eighth place.