With a powerful late burst, outsider Nakayama Festa nabbed favorite Buena Vista in the final dozen strides to win the $3.1 million Takarazuka Kinen (Jpn-I), Japan's grand prix race to conclude the spring racing season before a crowd of 55,735 at Hanshin Racecourse June 27.
Yoshitomi Shibata partnered with Nakayama Festa, who closed from the far outside portion of the course where the temperamental 4-year-old colt would not be bothered by other horses in the 17-horse field. In his first race at Hanshin, he caught third choice Earnestly, who had taken the lead leaving the turn for home, and Buena Vista, the standout filly who had drawn even with 200 meters to run, to earn his first grade I victory. He also achieved a success that had eluded his sire, Stay Gold, who ran in the Takarazuka Kinen four consecutive times from 1998 to 2001 without winning.
The field for the Takarazuka Kinen, established in 1960, is voted upon by fans who select runners from all distances to determine the best horse of the spring season. Nakayama Festa went off as the eighth choice and completed the 2,200 meters (about 11 furlongs) in 2:13 over a course rated "good" after morning rains.
Nakayama Festa acted up behind the gate, dumping his rider before loading. But he broke smoothly from the extreme outside post and raced mid-pack while wide. Namura Crescent went to the lead and opened up a two-length advantage over Earnestly, Logi Universe and Buena Vista, racing toward the inside. Nakayama Festa advanced gradually on the final turn. When the pacesetter gave way, Earnestly, ridden by Tetsuzo Sato, pounced on the lead. Buena Vista, with Norihiro Yokoyama aboard, found a small gap between the tiring Namura Crescent and Earnestly and it appeared the race would come down to those two.
But Nakayama Festa charged home on the outside, getting the lead with about 50 meters to run and inching away. Buena Vista settled for second by a half-length over Earnestly. Dream Journey rallied for fourth, another half-length behind.
“It’s always a question of whether this horse will run seriously or not,” said Shibata, who claimed his first grade I win in four years. “He was a bit of a handful but after the break he ran smoothly and with a cool head. That was very good.”
Trainer Yoshitaka Ninomiya won his first Takarazuka Kinen. Nakayama Festa, out of the Tight Spot mare Dear Wink, was bred at Arai Bokujo and is owned by Shinichi Izumi.