In an exhilarating finish to the 33rd renewal of the Japan Cup (Jpn-I), filly Gentildonna nosed out another filly, Denim and Ruby, Nov. 24 at Tokyo Race Course to become the first to win the prestigious event twice.
The first two finishers in the $5.7 million race are both by the premier Japanese stallion Deep Impact, the 20006 Japan Cup winner who stands at Shadai Stallion Station in Abira, Hokka.
Great Britain's internationally acclaimed Ryan Moore rode the favored Gentildonna for the first time, registering a narrow victory for trainer Sei Ishizaka and owner Sunday Racing, which won its fourth straight Japan Cup. It was the fifth grade I win for 4-year-old Gentildonna, Japan's defending Horse of the Year. She defeated Orfevre also by a nose in last year's Japan Cup with Yasunari Iwata aboard.
"(The finish) was too close to my liking," Moore said. "I felt she held on, but Denim and Ruby closed fast enough to make it tight.
"She's very special," Moore said of the winner. "It was a great pleasure to ride her. This is a race I've always wanted to win and she helped me accomplish that."
Northern Racing bred Gentildonna out of the Bertolini mare Donna Blini. The victory was the bay filly's first from four starts in 2013 and her eighth overall from 13 races.
After stalking pacesetter Eishin Flash on a slow pace, Moore made an early move on Gentildonna and took a two-length lead in the long Tokyo homestretch. She held on gamely in the final strides as the 3-year-old filly Denim and Ruby surged home on the far outside to just miss before a frantic crowd of 89,719. Tosen Jordan finished third, just a neck farther back in the 17-horse field, with Admire Rakti fourth.
The finish completed a sweep of the top four places for the home country, which registered its eighth consecutive Japan Cup win.
The final time for the 2,400-meter (about 1 1/2-mile) event over very firm turf was 2:26.1, four seconds off the course mark.
Ishizaka said he never lost confidence in his star filly in spite of her winless record in 2013.
"I had been training her to win every time, but I was very relieved that she was able to claim the Cup again in her last start of the season. Thinking about our staff; they've put in so much effort. The fans still believed in her. I was much relieved that she was able to prove she's still a very special horse."
The top foreign finisher in the field was the French-bred Dunaden, who finished fifth. Disappointing was second choice Gold Ship, who was never a factor while finishing 15th.
Gentildonna was coming off a runner-up finish in the 2,000-meter (about 1 1/4-mile) Tenno Sho (Autumn) Oct. 27 as a short-priced favorite at Tokyo in her first start in four months. She began the year with a second in the Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-I) March 30 at Myedan Racecourse, then ran third behind Gold Ship in Hanshin's Takarazuka Kinen (Jpn-I) June 23. She was ridden in her previous races this year by Iwata.
Eishin Flash unexpectedly set the pace, which was a deliberate one, while Tosen Jordan raced about one length behind. The fillies Verxina and Gentildonna, on the outside of rivals, rated off the leaders while Gold Ship dropped out to the back of the big field.
Gentildonna challenged for the lead about 800 meters out and gained a short edge in the long straight before extending the advantage with about 200 meters to go. Moore urged her on in deep stretch as Denim and Ruby provided a serious challenge on Gentildonna's outside for Suguru Hamanaka, withTosen Jordan and William Buick also rallying.
"She just showed what a massive run she has," Moore said.
Last year, Gentildonna became the first 3-year-old filly to be named Japan's Horse of the Year. Her six wins from seven races included other group I wins in the Oka Sho (Japanese One Thousand Guineas), Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks), and Shuka Sho.
"She took the lead quite early in the stretch," Ishizaka said. "I knew it was very very close but I believed she had won. Compared to last year, it was closer then."
Moore thought he'd won, too, but waited to celebrate. "I thought I won on the line, but Suguru Hamanaka started shouting like he'd won. It's very hard to tell whats going on here. I didn't want to start getting too excited."
Ishizaka said Gentildonna will get a well-earned vacation, but is expected to be back again next year. Dubai is a possibility once again, he said.