Fleetstreet Dancer, winless for the past year, fought back like a champion in the shadow of the finish line, coming back under jockey Jon Court at odds of 48-1 to shock odds-on favorite Admire Don and win the $2-million Japan Cup Dirt (Jpn-I) by a nose at a drenched Tokyo race course on Saturday.
Claimed for $40,000 from trainer Ray Bell in October of 2002 by trainer Doug O'Neill on behalf of owners Lee and Ty Leatherman, Fleetstreet Dancer raced well in graded stakes company throughout 2003, his best performance coming when second, beaten a half-length by Pleasantly Perfect, in the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) Oct. 4. The race looked that much better when Pleasantly Perfect next won the Breeders' Cup Classic – Powered by Dodge (gr. I).
O'Neill admitted that he erred when he raced Fleetstreet Dancer in the Seabiscuit Handicap three weeks later, saying the Smart Strike gelding out of stakes winner Street Ballet (by Nijinsky II) needed more time between races. He had a full month after the Seabiscuit, shipped well, and galloped strongly up to the 1 5/16-mile Japan Cup Dirt. His chances may have improved further when heavy rains turned the racing surface into a very wet but very fast track that produced record times earlier in the day.
Court went to work at the top of the stretch, urging Fleetstreet Dancer past the pacesetting Kanetsu Fleuve and into a clear lead. Admire Don would not let Fleetstreet Dancer win it easily, however, and closed resolutely from the outside. Court kept busy, switching the whip from his left hand to right and back again, but Admire Don appeared to have his number. He surged past in the final 100 meters under jockey Katsumi Ando, who appeared confident that victory was his. But neither Court nor Fleetstreet Dancer were willing to concede, and Fleetstreet Dancer was inching back toward the lead when the two horses hit the wire together.
Japan Racing Association officials said the official margin was just four centimeters, or just over one inch. The time of 2:09.20 set a new track record.
The win was Court's first in a grade or group I event. "It's the first one they let me keep," he said, referring to a disqualification aboard With Anticipation in the 2001 United Nations Handicap (gr. IT) at Monmouth Park. The win was O'Neill's second in a grade/group I, the first coming in the 2002 Hollywood Gold Cup with Sky Jack.
Finishing third, five lengths behind the runner-up was Hagino High Grade. The only other non-Japanese runner in the 16-horse field, American-based Outta Here, finished ninth.
The winner, bred in Kentucky by White Fox Farm, earned approximately $1,084,000 and paid 4,930 yen to win for every 100 yen wagered