Success Brocken Surprises Casino Drive

The 4-year-old colt beats a star-studded field in Japan's first grade I race of 2009.

(from Japan Racing Association report)

The torch was passed from dirt champions Kane Hekili and Vermilion when Success Brocken edged Casino Drive by a neck in record time while winning the $2.2 million February Stakes (Jpn-I) before 70,000 at Tokyo Race Course Feb. 22.

Success Brocken, who went off as the sixth choice in the field of 16 for Japan's first grade I of the year, clocked a winning time of 1:34.6 for the 1,600 meters (about one mile) under perfect racing conditions. He broke the course mark set by Meisho Bowler in 2005 by one-tenth of a second.

Ridden to victory by Hiroyuki Uchida, the Japanese-bred 4-year-old collared Casino Drive inside the final furlong and outfought the American-bred son of Mineshaft  for the narrow victory while also holding off the late charge of red-hot favorite Kane Hekili, who finished a head behind the runner-up in third.

Casino Drive won the Peter Pan (gr. II) at Belmont Park last year and finished 12th in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I).

The 7-year-old Kane Hekili, who won the February in 2006 and also captured the Japan Cup Dirt (Jpn-I) at 1,800 meters last December, had a four-race grade I winning streak ended.

Espoir City set the pace before being passed by the stalker Casino Drive with a furlong to run and took a close fourth. Vermilion, last year's February winner and the second choice ridden by Yutaka Take, slipped to sixth. Six Japanese grade I winners were in the field.

Winning trainer Hideaki Fujiwara said he did not expect the son of Symboli Kris S to reach his full potential this soon in the season. Tetsu Takashima's homebred is now 6-for-11 in his career.

“I didn’t think he would win today,” Fujiwara said. “He has potential, but I just thought a victory like this would come a lot farther down the line. I’m not trying to take anything away from him, but I really thought he would need more time to get the most out of his ability.

“The conditions were all there for the horse today. It was 1,600 meters and we had an outside draw (post 15). When Kane Hekili came up on us form the inside, I thought we were through. There were two class horses in the field, and I was just hoping our horse would make them work for it. He left everything he had out there today, and now it’s time for a break. When he first came to the stable, I remember him being so weak and he just continues to amaze us with his spirit.”

Uchida said Success Brocken’s recent battles had made him a tougher horse than anyone could have imagined.

“The horse has grown up fast,” said Uchida, who won his first dirt grade I race since his switch from the local circuit to the JRA. “The race went much smoother for him today. We weren’t really marking anyone, but with Kane Hekili, Casino Drive and Vermilion being the three strongest, we were wondering who would have the best day."

Kane Hekili was done in by the distance and the pace, jockey Christophe Lemaire said.

“I think his condition was perfect. But today the reason was that the race was a little bit different than the last three races, that had been more than a mile, slow pace and a fast finish,” Lemaire said.

“This time the pace was different and the finish was not as brilliant as last time," Lemaire added. "But he ran very, very good and I’m very happy with him. Now he’s seven years old, and he’s still a great horse and we had a perfect race with good leaders. We had a big gap in the straight to come. He tried very hard, I tried very hard. But today the winner was the best."