Earnestly wins the Breeders' Cup Challenge Japan (Takarazuka Kinen).

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Earnestly wins the Breeders' Cup Challenge Japan (Takarazuka Kinen).
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Kate Hunter

Earnestly Gains BC Turf Slot With Japan Win

Six-year-old holds off favored Buena Vista in Takarazuka Kinen at Hanshin Racecourse.

Earnestly opened a substantial lead in the homestretch and held off favored Buena Vista in course record time to win the Takarazuka Kinen (Jpn-I), an all-star race worth $3.2 million held at Hanshin Racecourse June 26.

The 6-year-old Earnestly won the 2,200-meter event (about 1 3/8 miles) in 2:10.1 over firm going before an announced crowd of 59,219, earning his first grade I victory by 1 1/2 lengths.

Jockey Tetsuzo Sato guided Earnestly to victory for owner Koji Maeda and trainer Shozo Sasaki. Bred in Japan by North Hills Management, the bay horse by 1999 Takarazuka Kinen champion Grass Wonder improved upon his third-place finish in last year's event. Participants, which numbered 16 in this year's race, are selected by the public who made Buena Vista the number one selection in the field.

Beginning this year, Takarazuka Kinen has also joined the Breeders' Cup Challenge, an international series of stakes races. Earnestly earned an automatic starting berth in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) to be held in November at Churchill Downs.

Sato spotted Earnestly in second behind Namura Crescent at a good pace as Buena Vista, the only mare in the field, dropped back to mid-pack for jockey Yasunari Iwata.

Earnestly, the sixth choice in the field, took the lead heading into the stretch and was in command through the lane. Five-year-old Buena Vista, a lifetime winner of about $13 million, unwound her typical late burst but came up short while gaining the place spot by a nose. Eishin Flash, the 2010 Japanese Derby (Jpn-I) winner who was the third choice of bettors, was third. He was a half-length in front of Rose Kingdom, last year's Japan Cup (Jpn-I) champion, with second choice Rulership fifth.

Winner of last year's Sapporo Kinen (Jpn-II) and the Kinko Sho (Jpn-II), both at 2,000 meters, Earnestly has now won nine of 20 starts. In his only prior race this year, Earnestly turned in a third-place finish behind Rulership in Kyoto's Kinko Sho (Jpn-II) May 28.

Earnestly is out of the Tony Bin mare Lettre d'Amour.