Asia Express, a Florida-bred son of Henny Hughes, took to the turf for the first time in the Asahi Futurity (Jpn-I) Dec. 15 at Nakayama racecourse and kept his perfect record intact with a surprising burst of speed in the stretch.
British-based jockey Ryan Moore settled Asia Express in mid-field along the rail as Bel Canto opened a clear lead early to set the pace. Advancing into striking distance just behind the front group on the far turn, Asia Express was ready to roll when angled out for running room at the top of the stretch.
Runner-up Shonan Achieve and third-place finisher Win Full Bloom rallied at the same time and momentarily battled as they overtook Bel Canto inside the final 200 meters. Asia Express responded eagerly when called upon and closed furiously in the final 100 meters to power past those two and drew clear to a 1 1/4-length triumph, his third win from as many starts.
Ocala Stud bred Asia Express out of the multiple stakes-winning Running Stag mare Running Bobcats and offered the colt at the 2013 Ocala Breeders' Sale Co. March 2-year-olds in training sale. He drilled a quarter-mile in :21 flat at the sale's under-take show and was purchased by Narvick International for $230,000.
Asia Express was timed in 1:34.70 for the 1,600-meter (about one mile) Asahi Futurity, run on firm turf. Making his stakes debut, he most likely earned the 2-year-old championship. The race for colts and fillies offered a purse of ¥146,600,000 ($1,629,000 in United States funds).
Shonan Achieve finished a neck in front of Win Full Bloom while favorite Atom checked in fifth after being caught in a bit of traffic around the final turn.
"He surprised me—he quickened up so well," Moore said of Asia Express, who won his first two starts on dirt racing counter-clockwise, including his previous outing when the rider guided him to a seven-length romp going 1,600 meters Nov. 23 at Tokyo. The Asahi Futurity is run clockwise on the grass, and the colt was undaunted by the switch. He provided Moore with a group I double in Japan, following his victory aboard Gentildonna in the Japan Cup (Jpn-I) Nov. 24 at Tokyo.
"When I rode him before, he looked like he was a horse with lots of gears," Moore said of Asia Express. "He's a special horse, because not many do both dirt and grass."
Asia Express sparkled in his career debut Nov. 3 at Tokyo winning a 1,400-meter (about seven-furlong) race by five lengths for Takahisa Tezuka, who trains the chestnut colt for owner Yukio Baba.
The winner descends from a strong female line of Florida stakes winners. In addition to his dam, who bankrolled $377,494, and second dam, Backatem, a stakes winner by Notebook, Asia Express is from the family of millionaire and multiple stakes winner Shawdowbdancing, an earner of more than $1 million.
Group I-winning sprinter Henny Hughes, a 10-year-old son of Hennessy, will stand in Japan for the 2014 season after his purchase earlier this year by Yushun Stallion Station in Hokkaido.
A former Darley shuttler, Henny Hughes stood this year's Northern Hemisphere season at Walmac Farm in Lexington following the championship season of his daughter Beholder, the 2012 Eclipse Award winner as champion 2-year-old filly. Beholder won the 2013 Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) in November at Santa Anita Park and is a leading candidate for champion 3-year-old filly honors.
Michael Compton contributed to this article.