Deep Impact Wins Japan Triple Crown

A record crowd of nearly 137,000 people at Kyoto Racecourse Oct. 23 witnessed Japan's sixth Triple Crown winner, the first in 11 years and only the second to have captured the series unbeaten. Deep Impact, a Sunday Silence colt out of the Alzao mare Wind in Her Hair, gave the fans and his connections a heart-pounding run for their money even though a bet to win returned not a single yen of profit.

Deep Impact, after an unusually clean start, sped into the first turn and past the stands borderline out of control. His first time over a lap and a half, the colt apparently mistook the stretch and the roar from the crowds as his cue to battle for the lead. Jockey Yutaka Take said he was praying he would settle and wished the crowd would be quiet. "I just wanted them to shut up but, of course, I realized we were the reason for the noise," the loudest roar from the stands Take said he has ever heard in 18 years of riding.

Deep Impact did settle as he entered the backstretch and relaxed into a midfield seventh position on the rail. As the field straightened for home, Deep Impact was still well back with Admire Japan holding his own in front. "I gave him the go sign," Take said, "and he flew." Despite worried murmurs from the stands, Deep Impact romped to the front, catching and passing Admire Japan with less than 100 meters to the line.
Sunday Silence colts swept the top four spots with Rosenkreuz following Admire Japan home in third place four lengths later, followed by Six Sense and the Stormin Fever colt Fusaichi Auster.

The first superstar to emerge in years, Deep Impact had reached levels of heroic popularity long before the Kikkasho as he returned fans' votes of confidence in each of his six races leading to the Triple Crown final leg. The dark bay colt of a deceptively unimposing stature rose to stardom after only fetching a modest 70 million yen for breeder Katsumi Yoshida of Northern Farm. Owner Makoto Kaneko surely sensed he had purchased something big after all when Deep Impact blew away his debut field by four lengths, following that with a five-length stakes win before moving to the group level. Into the classics on his fourth outing, Deep Impact won the Japan Triple Crown's first leg Satsukisho by 2 1/2 lengths, then took the Derby by another five-length monster of a margin.

The day of the 66th running of the Kikkasho saw fans snapping up Deep Impact T-shirts, caps, stuffed animals and a lineup of other goods. Special commemorative racing programs featuring full color foldout photos of Deep Impact's first two crowns disappeared hours before the 3:40 p.m. post time.

The pressure on the coolheaded Take was tremendous. The overwhelming support for Deep Impact had created an environment that made losing barely an option. "Everyone expected us to win," Take said. "The talk was not about if he was going to win, but how." Take said he made it his aim not to get cocky, but "just ride the best race. Still, I felt a great deal of responsibility to win the Triple Crown," he said. "I planned to escape out the backstretch if we lost."

The win of the Kikkasho was the fourth for Take, who said it had been a constant dream to one day win the Triple Crown. "This is a feeling, of course, unlike any I've had before. It's indescribable." Owner Kaneko and trainer Ikee were also at a loss for words. "I feel as if I'm floating," said Ikee, who had won the Kikkasho three times before. "I think I need a good night's sleep before I come down." Kaneko said he had yet to grasp the magnitude of the win. "Right now all I'm feeling is joy at winning the Kikkasho. But the Triple Crown, that is something I can't even comprehend. When I do start to feel it, I think I'm going to relish that for years and years to come."

Deep Impact clocked 3:04.6 seconds over the 3,000 meters of turf. The win of the Kikkasho added 112 million yen to his earnings, bringing the total to over 610 million yen for seven races. Deep Impact joins Triple Crown winners Saint Lite from 1941, Shinzan in '64, Mr. C.B. in '83 and Symboli Rudolf (also unbeaten through the Triple Crown) in 1984. The Brian's Time-sired Narita Brian captured the series in 1994.