Espoir City, with jockey Tetsuzo Sato, crosses the finish line to win the Japan Cup Dirt at Hanshin Race Course in Japan.

Espoir City, with jockey Tetsuzo Sato, crosses the finish line to win the Japan Cup Dirt at Hanshin Race Course in Japan.

Associated Press

Espoir City Runs Away With Japan Cup Dirt

Favorite wins gate-to-wire by 3 1/2 lengths; American-trained Tizway finishes 12th.

(from Japanese Racing Association report)

Favored Espoir City became the 10th champion of the Japan Cup Dirt on Dec. 6 at Hanshin Racecourse, going wire-to-wire from the rail post to finish 3 1/2 lengths ahead of Silk Mobius for his first group I victory.

Before a crowd of 40,226, the 4-year-old Espoir City was made the narrow favorite ahead of the race’s 2007 winner Vermilion. The chestnut colt seized the lead over American hope Tizway after leaving the inside gate and never looked back under Tetsuzo Sato, who rode the colt with great confidence in the $3-million event.

The Harold James Bond-trained Tizway, the only entry from overseas after Belmont Stakes (gr. I) champion Summer Bird pulled out last week because of a fractured leg, came in 12th.

Espoir City, by Gold Allure out of Eminent City, crossed the line comfortably ahead of Silk Mobius, the 3-year-old fifth pick ridden by the young Hiroyasu Tanaka, who won last month’s Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup (Jpn-I) aboard longshot Queen Spumante.

The winning time on firm going over the 1,800 meters (about nine furlongs) was 1:49.9, less than a second off the race record set by Kane Hekili last year. Espoir City, trained by Akio Adachi, took home about $1.4 million in prize money for the Yushun Horse ownership team. The horse is now 9-for-17 for his career with earnings of more than $4 million.

Trailing Silk Mobius by 1 1/4 lengths was another 3-year-old colt, Golden Ticket, the 12th choice under last weekend’s Japan Cup (Jpn-I) winner Christophe Lemaire. Yutaka Take-ridden Vermilion, who was third in the Japan Cup Dirt in 2008, had a disappointing afternoon, finishing eighth in the full field of 16.

The reigning February Stakes (Jpn-I) champion Success Brocken kept up with Espoir City most of the way before running out of steam on the straight to hit the wire fourth.

Sato, who won his first group I race in five years in lifting his first Japan Cup Dirt, said Tizway was the only horse he was remotely worried about as Espoir City left his competitors in the dust in the home stretch. Espoir City won his fourth straight since finishing fourth in the February Stakes.

“I was a little concerned about the horse from overseas,” the 39-year-old rider Sato said in the post-race interview. “I didn’t expect to draw the inside barrier, and I only decided on taking the lead after we left the gates.

“The horse ran a heck of a race. He settled perfectly, but I wasn’t worried about that because we’ve been working on it a lot in training. I had all the faith in the world he would travel well. I never looked back when we turned for home because I knew we wouldn’t lose with the race we were running. He tends to get distracted at Hanshin, but he was so locked in today.”

Next for Espoir City could be the 1,600-meter February Stakes – perhaps followed by a trip to Dubai in March.

“The stable and I have bigger plans for him abroad, but if we weren't good enough to win here, then it wasn’t going to happen," Sato said. "So I’m really glad he came through for us today."