T.M. Opera O Upset, But Sets New Earnings Mark

Japanese champion T.M. Opera O suffered a "surprise" defeat June 24 at Hanshin Racecourse as the spring top-level season wound down with the Takarazuka Memorial (Jpn-I). Turning the table was longtime rival and race second pick Meisho Doto, who had placed second to T.M. Opera O in their past five group I races.

Running the second-fastest time in the Takarazuka's 42-year-history, 2:11.70, Meisho Doto (Bigstone--Princess Reema, by Affirmed) held off a late charge by T.M. Opera O for the length and a quarter win over 2,200 meters of turf.

Hot Secret, who had strongly held the front for most of the race, finished third by a nose, followed by Stay Gold and Air Shakur.
Breaking smoothly from the gate, Irish-bred Meisho Doto maintained a fourth-place position as the field of 12 crawled over the first 1,000 meters in just over 61 seconds. T.M. Opera O followed some two lengths farther back.

Picking up the pace entering the final turn, rider Yasuhiko Yasuda moved toward the rail, setting off the inquiry light as well as a chain reaction. The door suddenly closed on three runners, including race favorite T.M. Opera O (Opera House-Once Wed, by Blushing Groom), whose rider, Ryuji Wada, was forced to stand up and slam on the brakes. Though the stewards cleared Meisho Doto, the momentary break in rhythm had severe repercussions in the short Hanshin straight. Despite a gallant bid for the top, T.M. Opera O was unable to catch Meisho Doto in time.

The long elusive victory was sweet for Yasuda, who pumped his fist in the air several times before even knowing the result of the inquiry. "I'm so happy I could quit right now and it wouldn't matter," Yasuda said later, claiming, "Everything went exactly to plan." The 28-year-old admitted, however, that he had had a few harrowing deja-vu-like moments in the stretch as T.M. Opera O remained out of his line of vision. "I was worried we were going to be second again."

Despite missing out on what would have been his eighth group I crown, T.M. Opera O, the champion 3-year-old colt in 1999 and Horse of the Year in 2000, became the first Japanese horse to exceed the ¥2 billion mark in earnings.