Eight-year-old Company earned the first group I victory of his career when he upset a field that included Vodka and Screen Hero to become the 140th winner of the Tenno Sho (Autumn) before a crowd of 107,783 at Tokyo Racecourse Nov. 1.
Company, ridden by Norihiro Yokoyama, tied the 2,000-meter course record at Tokyo, clocking 1:57.2 over firm going while registering a 1 3/4-length win over 2008 Japan Cup (Jpn-I) victor Screen Hero. Defending Tenno Sho (Autumn) champion Vodka, who established the course record, checked in third as the overwhelming favorite, finishing a neck behind the runner-up. The 5-year-old mare Vodka was shooting for her record-tying seventh international or Japanese group I win.
A field of 18 made the race, including nine Japanese or international grade group I winners. Company, a bay horse owned by his breeder, Hideko Kondo, and trained by Hidetaka Otonashi, succeeded in his fourth attempt at winning the Tenno Sho while sent off as the fifth choice. An eight-time graded stakes winner, Company's best previous finish in 13 prior attempts in a group I race was a third-place showing in the 2007 Tenno Sho (Autumn).
“I’ve been working with Company since he was 2, and I’ve been dreaming of this day for who knows how long,” said Otonashi, who won the race for his first time as well. “His talent was always evident, but we just haven’t had the result for one reason or another. We’ve been through a lot over the six years and it feels nice to be finally rewarded.”
Company was coming off another win over Vodka in the Oct. 11 Mainichi Okan (Jpn-II) at 1,800 meters also held at Tokyo. The victory had offered hope for the Tenno Sho.
“I could tell from the moment I was on him at the paddock that he was in the best shape yet,” said the winning 41-year-old jockey Yokoyama, who added his first autumn Tenno Sho title to two victories from the spring version of the Emperor’s Cup in 1996 and 2004 aboard Sakura Laurel and Ingrandire, respectively.
“He really had the spring in his step today, but it’s a group I race and there are a lot of other good horses in the group. He got off to a good start from a good barrier which gave us good position.”
Yokoyama said he was never concerned with Vodka during the race. “Never. I didn’t worry about the other horses at all. My main concern was getting the most out of my horse, letting him run at a rhythm he likes. Screen Hero made a good target for us during the trip, and I kept as close as I could to him until the time was right.
Last year’s Takarazuka Kinen (Jpn-I) winner Eishin Deputy was on the lead out of the start as expected, with 2008 Satsuki Sho champion Captain Thule, Screen Hero, and Matsurida Gogh, who won the 2007 Arima Kinen (Jpn-I), right behind. Company left from post 3, staying mid-pack along the railing in front of Vodka, who was ridden by Yutaka Take.
Turning for home, Take’s mount, boxed inside by the rails, could not find room to break free while Yokoyama steered Company toward the front without interruption. By the time Vodka found the opening to hit top speed, Company was in the clear.
Otonashi said during the post-race press conference that he was confident of victory all long.
“He was at about 90% fitness for the Mainichi Okan,” Otonashi said. “He managed to get even better for this race, and the jockey told me how good he felt at the paddock.
“We never cared about Vodka. It was important to get our horse to run his best race, and Yokoyama knows the horse better than anyone. I think the horse has just been unlucky to this point, and it had nothing to do with the jockeys who rode him in the past. Today’s result only confirms his quality.
“I had another horse running in this race (fourth-place finisher Oken Bruce Lee), so I couldn’t say prior to the race who was better. I wanted to say Company was in spectacular shape, but now I can. I was confident all long.”
By Miracle Admire out of Brilliant Very, Company earned his 11th win in 34 career starts. He is set to run in the Mile Championship (Jpn-I) at Kyoto later this month.