Ayusan announced herself as a horse to watch in Japan's Triple Crown for fillies when she dug in gamely to repel a strong late bid from Red Opal and capture the $2,311,000 Oka Sho (Jpn-I), or Japanese One Thousand Guineas, the first jewel in the series April 7 at Hanshin Racecourse.
Italian jockeys Cristian and Mirco Demuro rode the respective winner and runner-up, a first for brothers in Japan Racing Association history. Shadai Stallion Station's elite stallion Deep Impact, sired both Ayusan and Red Opal. His daughters have now won the Oka Sho for three consecutive years.
Rallying from midpack under Cristian Demuro, who was substituting for injured regular jockey Genki Maruyama, Ayusan overcame traffic in early stretch and caught front-runner and 5-2 favorite Kurofune Surprise a furlong out to take charge after a brief duel. When runner-up Red Opal came flying from well back to challenge with Mirco Demuro aboard, Ayusan found another gear and held off the challenger to prevail in a rousing finish.
Ayusan was timed in 1:35 for 1,600 meters (about one mile) to win as the seventh favorite at 18-1 odds in the 18-horse field.
Entering with only a debut victory in her win column, the bay filly earned the distinction of becoming the first filly since Wonder Perfume in 1995 with only a singular win to capture the Oka Sho.
Trained by Takahisa Tezuka for owner Juichi Hoshino, Ayusan had performed creditably in stakes company, finishing second in the Artemis Stakes in November at Tokyo and a third to Kurofune Surprise in the Tulip Sho (Jpn-III) March 2 at Hanshin in her previous start. In between was a season-capping seventh-place finish behind winner Robe Tissage and runner-up Kurofune Surprise in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies (Jpn-I) in December.
Kurofune Surprise tracked pacesetter Someries in the Oka Sho and launched an early bid well before the final turn to lead in early stretch. She could not hold her advantage, giving way to the Ayusan and Red Opal before finishing fourth, a neck behind third-place finisher Princess Jack. Robe Tissage, the JRA's 2012 champion 2-year-old filly, finished fifth after racing in front of the winner in the early stages.
Highly regarded Tosen Soliel, unbeaten in two starts and a Neo Universe half sister to two-time Japanese Horse of the Year Deep Impact, finished seventh in her stakes debut.
Bred in Japan by Shimokobe Farm, Ayusan is out of the winning Storm Cat mare Buy the Cat, a full sister to grade III winner and sire Storm Broker. Her second dam is multiple graded stakes winner Buy the Firm, a half sister to grade I winner and sire Image of Greatness.
The Oka Sho along with the Yushun Himba (Jpn-), or Japanese Oaks May 19 at Tokyo, and the Shuka Sho (Jpn-I) Oct. 13 at Kyoto makes up Japan's classic series for fillies.