Frankie Dettori needed every ounce of his riding skills to get Alkaased to the line first in the 25th running of the Japan Cup (Jpn-I) at Tokyo Race Course on Sunday, winning the 2,400 meter turf race by a nose over the fast-closing Japanese-bred runner Heart's Cry in world-record time of 2:22.10. Zenno Rob Roy, the Japan Cup's defending champion and heavy favorite under Kent Desormeaux, finished third, another 1 ¾ lengths back.
U.S.-based horses Better Talk Now and King's Drama finished 12th and 16th, respectively, in the 18-horse international field.
Dettori took Alkaased well off a hot pace set by 2003 Japan Cup winner Tap Dance City, who set fractions of :23.40, :46.50, 1:10.20, and 1:34.0 for the opening 1,600 meters.
Tap Dance City and jockey Tetsuzo Sato opened a long lead at the head of the stretch and it appeared a major upset might be in the offing. But Great Britain's Ouija Board and Zenno Rob Roy took aim at the Pleasant Tap horse and the leader quickly yielded. Then came Dettori and Alkaased with a furious rally on the outside. They hit the lead in the final 100 meters and appeared home free, but Heart's Cry--one of seven runners in the race sired by Sunday Silence--came charging up the inside under Christophe Lemaire. Their rally came up just short, and the Italian-born Dettori had his third Japan Cup victory -- all won by the same margin, a nose.
The final time of 2:22.10 bested the previous Japan Cup record of 2:22.20 set by the New Zealand mare Horlicks in 1989.
Rounding out the order of finish was Lincoln in fourth, followed by Ouija Board, Sunrise Pegasus, Heavenly Romance, Bago, Suzuka Mambo, Tap Dance City, Admire Japan, Better Talk Now, Warrsan, Cosmo Bulk, My Sole Sound, King's Drama, Big Gold, and Stormy Cafe.
Alkaased, a 5-year-old by Kingmambo
bred in Kentucky by Robin Scully's Clovelly Farm, was purchased at the 2001 Keeneland September yearling sale for $325,000 by Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum. He now races for Michael Charlton of Monaco and Jean-Marc Charmat of France after being acquired for 42,000 guineas at a Tattersalls horses in training sale at the end of his 3-year-old campaign in 2003.
Trained by Luca Cumani, Alkaased was pointed to this year's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe Lucien Barriere (Fr-I) but was forced to miss the race because of a cut in his leg that became infected and required medication. He was pre-entered in the Breeders' Cup John Deere Turf (gr. IT), but Cumani withdrew him from the race because he was not pleased with either Alkaased's condition or the soft going of the Belmont Park turf course.
Cumani, who helped launch Dettori's career from his training yard in Newmarket, England, said he left the race strategy up to his jockey. Dettori had a different story. "We drew the 14 post," Dettori remarked, "and Luca said you must get to the rail. I said, "Who do you think I am, Houdini?'"
But Dettori managed to save ground in the early running, something that likely made the difference between victory and defeat.
The win, Alkaased's sixth in 16 lifetime starts, was worth approximately $2.2 million from a total purse of $4.1 million. He was sent off at odds of 9-1 by Japanese racing fans who wagered more than $180 million on the race and $262 million on the day. The on-track crowd of 95,635 was down 20% from last year, when both the Japan Cup and Japan Cup Dirt were run on the Japan Racing Association's 50th anniversary program.
Charlton indicated a trip to Hong Kong for the international races in December is likely, though he deferred to Cumani for a final decision. The owner sidestepped questions about Alkaased's possible retirement to a Japanaese stud farm for the 2006 breeding season. "We'll make that decision after Hong Kong," he said.