Hyakutaro Kobayashi's homebred Nihonpiro Ours swept from just off the pace to dominate Sunday's Grade 1 Japan Cup Dirt in stakes-record time. By finishing nine furlongs at Hanshin in 1:48 4/5, the five-year-old son of White Muzzle handed jockey Manabu Sakai and trainer Yuki Ohashi their first career Grade 1 victory.
The winners of the past three renewals of Japan's dirt championship were back on Sunday -- Espoir City, the hero of 2009, and Transcend, the two-time defending champion who has lost a step this season. Nihonpiro Ours was only ninth in last year's Japan Cup Dirt, but he had since captured three stakes on the Japanese local government circuit, and was on the upgrade.
Espoir City flashed his early speed to show the way, stalked by the three-year-old Hokko Tarumae and Transcend. Nihonpiro Ours appeared a handful as he tracked on the outside in the opening stages, but Sakai got him to ease back slightly while still in striking range in fourth. Race favorite Roman Legend, who had narrowly beaten Nihonpiro Ours last time out in the Grade 3 Miyako Stakes, traveled along the rail in midfield, about eight lengths behind the pacesetter.
Espoir City was winging it on the front end and opened up down the backstretch, but came back to the field on the final bend. Turning into the stretch, Hokko Tarumae and Nihonpiro Ours were bearing down on the weakening Espoir City, and the two closers settled down to fight out the finish.
The duel was short-lived, though, for Nihonpiro Ours surged past his younger rival inside the final furlong. He sped his last three-eighths in :36, the best final split in the field, and lowered the race record set by Transcend in 2010 by 0.1.
"From the first time I mounted the horse," Sakai said, "I knew that he had the ability to perform well in big races. All the staff had put great effort in preparing the horse for this big day, and I just had to bring out the best in the horse today.
"I was able to settle the horse in good position toward the front while keeping an eye on the two strong horses racing in front. My mount responded willingly until the last furlong and showed a strong performance. I'm just grateful to the connections in trusting me with the horse and to all the fans that supported us."
"The race development was just perfect," Ohashi said. "The jockey waited to make bid, which was later than usual, and this is when I was sure that our horse was going to win the race. We took ample time to improve his form, and our efforts have at last been rewarded."
Wonder Acute rallied late to collar Hokko Tarumae by a half-length, thus taking runner-up honors in the Japan Cup Dirt for the second straight year. Roman Legend was along belatedly for fourth, another two lengths behind Hokko Tarumae. Grape Brandy, Miracle Legend, Namura Titan, Hatano Vainqueur, Civil War, Espoir City, Nice Meet You, To the Glory, Solitary King, Danon Come On, Ijigen and Transcend.
Nihonpiro Ours now sports a mark of 22-10-6-3, ¥379,910,000, all compiled on dirt. After breaking his maiden and climbing through the allowance ranks at three, the dark bay stepped up to stakes company the following season. Runner-up in the 2011 Hakusan Daishoten in his stakes debut, Nihonpiro Ours came right back to finish third to Espoir City in the Miyako prior to this ninth in the Japan Cup Dirt.
Wheeling back later last December for the Nagoya Grand Prix, Nihonpiro Ours broke through with his first stakes score. He annexed two more over the course of his 2012 campaign, the March 22 Nagoya Daishoten and the October 2 Hakusan Daishoten. Nihonpiro Ours has also placed second in a pair of graded races, the Grade 2 Tokai on May 19 and the November 4 Miyako, where he missed by only a neck to Roman Legend in his prep.
The Japanese-bred is out of the Admire Vega mare Nihonpillow Lupinus and hails from the family of champion and noted sire Fuji Kiseki. Further back, this is the female line of the European all-time great Mill Reef.