Dream Journey defeated favored Buena Vista to become the 54th champion of the season-ending grade I Arima Kinen at Nakayama Racecourse.

Dream Journey defeated favored Buena Vista to become the 54th champion of the season-ending grade I Arima Kinen at Nakayama Racecourse.

Kate Hunter

Dream Journey Captures Japan's Grand Prix

The 5-year-old edges favored filly Buena Vista before 115,327 at Nakayama Racecourse.

(from Japanese Racing Association report)

Dream Journey gave Kenichi Ikezoe the ride of his life at Nakayama Racecourse Dec. 27 when he defeated favored Buena Vista to become the 54th champion of the season-ending grade I Arima Kinen (Grand Prix).

The 5-year-old Japanese-bred Dream Journey, by Stay Gold out of Oriental Art, added to the Takarazuka Kinen (Jpn-I) he won in June for trainer Yasutoshi Ikee. He capped a one-two finish for the Sunday Racing Co. in the US$4.26-million event before a crowd of 115,327. Buena Vista's bid to become the first 3-year-old filly to win the Arima Kinen in nearly five decades fell short by half a length under new partner Norihiro Yokoyama.

Dream Journey, the second choice, clocked a time of 2:30 flat over the 2,500 meters (about 12 1/2 furlongs) on firm going at Nakayama, where he also won the Asahihai Futurity Stakes as a 2-year-old. The winning time was a half-second off the race record set by Zenno Rob Roy four years ago.

“This was a race we absolutely couldn’t lose,” said Ikezoe, who, along with trainer Ikee won the Arima Kinen for the first time. “I don’t think he could have been in better form and all I worried about was settling him into the race. I never paid attention to the other horses. It was all up to me.”

Dream Journey and Buena Vista finished well ahead of the rest of the field of 16 as 8-year-old Air Shady took third for the second straight year while finishing four lengths back. He edged 3-year-old colt Forgettable at the line. Meiner Kitz, this year’s Tenno Sho Spring (Jpn-I) winner, came in fifth to fill out the board in a race whose pace was set by the Yutaka Take-ridden Reach the Crown.

The 3-year-old Reach the Crown, who ran the first 1,000 meters in 58.6 seconds, ended up 13th. Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger) champion Three Rolls pulled up on the backstretch after partially tearing a tendon in his left front leg. His jockey, Suguru Hamanaka, was not hurt.

Dream Journey was second last early with only Air Shady behind him. Ikezoe waited patiently to make his move until the final bend. Buena Vista, meanwhile, took position in the front half of the pack as Yokoyama dumped the stretch-running tactic employed by his predecessor, Katsumi Ando. The filly settled nicely along the railing and Yokoyama unleashed her in the final straight as Dream Journey came up on the outside.

Halfway through the stretch, the two had pulled away from the others with either horse capable of winning. But in the end, Dream Journey prevailed.

“The pace turned out to be real good for him," Ikezoe said. "He can act up sometimes, so I just tried to keep him relaxed and I had plenty of time at the back to think about how to finish the race. I’ve got to really hand it to the folks at the stable because they had him in the best shape this fall. I know Dream Journey has a lot of support, and I’m so glad he could come through for the fans.

“He’s the champion of the spring Grand Prix (Takarazuka Kinen) and I was convinced we were going to win today. I knew where Buena Vista was on the straight and I knew she was the one we had to beat. But I had all the confidence in the world in my horse.”

Ikee said he missed the finish from the stands, with hordes of people all standing up as Dream Journey and Buena Vista approached the line.

“I couldn’t see at all because there were so many heads in the way,” he said. “I didn’t know we had won until the person next to me said, ‘Congratulations.’"

Dream Journey won for the ninth time in 24 starts and claimed his third title in a top-level race.