Japan Might Also Have Triple Crown Winner

Japan saw its first Triple Crown contestant in six years clinch the series' first two legs, as Neo Universe claimed his sixth victory in a row, the Nippon Derby by half a length June 1 at Tokyo Racecourse.

It was a history-making event for the human half of the winning team as well, as Italian rider Mirco Demuro, 24, moved to tears by the win and the packed stands' congratulatory cheers, became the first foreign jockey to win the classic in its 70-year history.

Zenno Rob Roy (Sunday Silence--Roamin Rachel, by Mining) followed Neo Universe (Sunday Silence--Pointed Path, by Kris) over the line, with That's the Plenty (Dance in the Dark--Bubble Prospector, by Miswaki) following in third place three-quarters of a length later.

Demuro, who had also ridden the colt in the Triple Crown first leg Satsukisho, returned to Japan especially for the Derby ride. The colt's quietness in the paddock initially had him worried, he said, but he later attributed it to a newfound maturity. Breaking from the No. 13 gate in an all-male field of 18, Demuro held Neo Universe rear of mid-pack on the rail until the bend. While most of the other runners sought ground far to the outside to avoid sloppy turf caused by heavy rain the previous day, Demuro moved out only by some three widths.

"The corners were very bad on the inside but I stayed there anyhow as he was handling it very well." Neo Universe's response, in fact, was "superb."

At the top of the 526-meter Tokyo stretch, the overwhelming favorite met the roar of nearly 134,000 fans with a leap into high gear and took the lead at the 200-meter mark to win easily. Demuro swung his whip, which he'd used not even once, into the air in triumph.
"He's unbelievable. If he did any more he'd be flying."

It was the first win of the Derby for Tsutomu Setoguchi, a trainer for 29 years. Setoguchi said he'd given no instructions to Demuro prior to the race, but admitted, "I was a bit worried at first when I saw him staying on the inside like that." As the horses neared the finish, however, Setoguchi thought he just might have the win. "I was yelling and pounding my fist on the table next to me," a virtually glowing 67-year-old told the press after the race.
Setoguchi says he plans to give Neo Universe a rest until the fall, when he will race the colt once before the Triple Crown third leg, the Kikkasho, in late October.

Derby weekend at Tokyo far more resembled the weekend of the Japan Cup as Tokyo fans were treated to riding by top jocks from three continents; Damien Oliver from Australia, Demuro from Italy, and Kent Desormeaux from the U.S.

Desormeaux, who has notched 12 wins since the start of his riding stint here this year, rode to a Derby fifth-place finish aboard Zenno Django, one of three colts fielded by leading trainer Kazuo Fujisawa. Zenno Rob Roy gave Fujisawa, who has yet to bag a Derby, the runner-up in the Derby for the second year in a row.
Neo Universe's winning time over 2,400 meters of heavy turf was 2:28.5. The colt was bred at Shadai Farm in Hokkaido and is owned by Shadai Race Horse.

His win of the Derby improved his record to six wins in seven starts and, with the Derby's ¥150 million winner's share, raised his accumulated earnings to more than ¥440 million.
The one foreign-bred colt (only two are permitted to run in the Nippon Derby) in the Derby lineup, Eishin Champ (Mi Cielo--Eishin Michigan, by Manila) finished 10th.