Front-running Laurel Guerreiro edges B B Guldan by a bare nose in Japan's Sprinter Stakes at Nakayama.

Front-running Laurel Guerreiro edges B B Guldan by a bare nose in Japan's Sprinter Stakes at Nakayama.

Kate Hunter

Centimeter Settles Japan's Sprinters Stakes

Front-running Laurel Guerreiro edges B B Guldan by a bare nose at Nakayama.

(from Japanese Racing Association report)

The sixth leg of the Global Sprint Challenge produced one of the closest finishes in Japan's Sprinters Stakes (Jpn-I) 43-year history when Laurel Guerreiro edged B B Guldan by one centimeter to prevail in the US$2.2 million event on Oct. 4 at Nakayama Racecourse.

Scenic Blast, the eight-race series leader, was not involved. The Australian Horse of the Year stumbled heading into the final turn and was boxed in late, coming home last in the 16-horse field. Favorite Ultima Thule,  the Centaur Stakes winner (Jpn-II) last month, faded in the home stretch and took fifth in her grade I debut.

Laurel Guerreiro, winner of the Takamatsunomiya Kinen (Jpn-I) in March, rebounded from a 14th-place finish in the Centaur. The 5-year-old horse became just the second to complete the Japan Racing Association’s spring-autumn sprint grade I double. The winning time by the sixth choice was 1:07.5 over 1,200 meters on firm turf, half a second off the race record set by Trot Star in 2001.

“I’m just glad we won today,” jockey Shinji Fujita said during the post-race press conference. “To be honest, I thought we may have been at a disadvantage at the wire. It was just really hard to tell because there was a lot of space between us and the horse on the outside.”

Scenic Blast, who went off as the third pick, was bidding to cash in the US$1 million Global Sprint Challenge bonus with a third grade I victory in three different countries.

The first overseas entry in the Sprinters Stakes in three years, the 5-year-old Scenic Blast still leads the Global Sprint Challenge by a comfortable 19 points after winning the Coolmore Lightning Stakes (Aus-I) and the King’s Stand Stakes (Eng-I). He will have to wait until December to uncork the champagne when he runs in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint (HK-I).

Before a crowd of just under 46,000 on a sunny afternoon at Nakayama, Laurel Guerreiro jumped on to the lead from the start and pushed the pace through the first 600 meters at 32.9 seconds before turning for home along the railing, with second choice B B Guldan, under veteran Katsumi Ando, closing in fast to his outside.

After clearing the hill on the 310-meter straight, the two horses hit the wire at the same time and it went to the photos to determine the champion. The finish was so close that the review required almost 15 minutes before Laurel Guerreiro was declared the winner. Kanoya Zakura, two-time defending champion of the JRA’s Summer Sprint Series, came in third, more than a length behind the top two.

Both Fujita and trainer Mitsugu Kon had not been confident ahead of the race following the King Halo son’s poor effort in the Centaur Stakes at Hanshin on Sept. 13.

“His last performance left a lot to be desired, and I definitely had my doubts for this race,” said Fujita, who won his first Sprinters Stakes. “He lost by too much for a grade I champion, and because he is a grade I champion, I didn’t want to blame it on the 59 kilograms he had carried.

“He breaks well as he always has, but he’s been really struggling to pick up the pace these last two races. I think if we went up against a pure speedster, he probably wouldn’t be able to grab the lead," Fujita added. "There’s such a huge difference in his result today from the last race that I don’t know what to make of all this. He was in much better form for the Takamatsunomiya Kinen, there’s no comparison. For him, I think it’s better that he stuck to 1,200 meters rather than running in the mile (1,600 meters). But full credit to him; he really toughed it out today.”

Added Kon, who also won his first Sprinters Stakes and announced plans for Laurel Guerreiro to run in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint on Dec. 13: “I would have settled for a tie. The horse was far from being in top condition, and I was just counting on him to dig deep. I think he showed a lot of pride as a grade I champion today.

“There was a period of time when he couldn’t win, but now he’s got two grade I titles to show for and I couldn’t be happier for him. He’ll definitely get better as the year progresses, and if he can win a grade I race in the form he was in today, you have to like his chances (in Hong Kong).

Owned by Laurel Racing, Laurel Guerreiro, out of Big Tenby (by Tenby), is 5-for-26 for his career.