Japan's King Still Rules

The Nippon Derby (Jpn-I) was, as it is many years, a heady mix of emotional extremes. It was a day of records, dashed dreams, and tragic contradictions; a day, bright and hot, on which favorite King Kamehameha once again ruled supreme, rewriting the books with a record time of 2:23.3.

Just three weeks from his romp to victory in the NHK Mile Cup (HK-I), the Kingmambo colt did it again, making rider Katsumi Ando's prediction that they could conquer the Derby ring true. "It wasn't an easy race," Ando said, "but winning it was almost a given. This horse is something else."

The extra 800 meters of the Derby were never a problem. "I'd been more worried about the mile," Ando said. "But with a strong win like that (by 5 lengths) I knew he could win the Derby."

From the start, Ando, a veteran of local racing, who only received his Japan Racing Association license 15 months ago, showed the stuff of experience.

Level-headed, cool, he failed to get caught up in the frenzied pace set by Meiner Makros, who was sprinting 10 lengths ahead of the 18-strong field. Ando kept to the rear of midfield, only moving up at the final bend. For one moment, when Higher Game shot ahead on his outside, Ando admitted, "I thought maybe we'd lost it." But after gaining the lead at the 300-meter mark, the race belonged to King Kamehameha alone.

Heart's Cry (by Sunday Silence) was second and Higher Game (by Sunday Silence) finished third.

The race was a heartbreak for connections and fans of Satsukisho runner-up and Derby second pick Cosmo Bulk (by Zagreb). With five wins and three seconds in eight starts, Cosmo Bulk was not only a small-town hero taking on the national-level crowd of the Derby, he was and is the forerunner of revolutionary changes in the highly regulated Japanese racing industry itself. There was much riding on the success of the colt, who is the first local-racing-based horse to be permitted to be trained (at an extreme savings in costs to owners) at designated farms outside the JRA training centers and then raced in JRA-sponsored races.
The big time, its massive crowds, perhaps the unbearable heat, something worked against him and Cosmo Bulk lost his head. Jockey Fuyuki Igarashi, himself a small-town rider, choked himself and failed to be there for the colt. Cosmo Bulk burned out by the final turn and fizzled to finish eighth.

The Northern Farm-bred King Kamehameha (out of Manfath, by Last Tycoon) is owned by Makoto Kaneko. Over 122,000 attended the Derby.

The Derby was marred by tragedy when Meiner Brooke broke down in the stretch and had to be euthanized. Also, Cosmo Sunbeam suffered a fracture but it was not life-threatening.