Nonkono Yume and Gold Dream both missed the break in the February Stakes (G1) Feb. 18 at Tokyo Racecourse but, after a furious stretch run, it was Nonkono Yume a neck in front of the favored Gold Dream at the finish.
Incantation was only a neck farther back in third in the first grade 1 race of the calendar year in Japan and one of the country's two major fixtures over dirt.
The victory carried an automatic entry, plus prepaid fees and a travel allowance, for the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs through the international Breeders' Cup Challenge.
Gold Dream won both the Feburary Stakes and the Champions Cup (G1) last season and was named Japan's top dirt horse. But he had not raced since the second of those victories, the Champions Cup at Chukyo Racecourse Dec. 3. Trainer Osamu Hirata said before the race he was happy with Gold Dream's conditioning.
"If he doesn't miss the break too badly, I think he has a chance this year, too," the conditioner said.
Despite the best efforts of visiting jockey Ryan Moore, Gold Dream did miss the break in the 1,600-meter (about one mile) event. But so, too, did Nonkono Yume, a 6-year-old Twining gelding who finished second in the Champions Cup in 2015 and the 2016 February Stakes, but hadn't run back to those efforts in recent races. Nonkono Yume was away last in the field of 16, with Gold Dream only two runners in front of him.
They raced that way until the turn, when Moore started Gold Dream on a bold move that found him circling the field to take the lead some 200 meters out. But, even farther outside, Hiroyuke Uchida had Nonkono Yume in full stride. He drew alongside Gold Dream nearing the wire and the two ran together for a few strides before Nonkono Yume put a neck in front and finished off the distance in 1:36 flat.
"The staff tuned him up beautifully and he was in very good form," Uchida said. "I kept him wide and in good striking position so that he could unleash his good late charge at any point, which is probably the reason why we were able to win today."
Nonkono Yume hinted at a reversal of form in his 2018 debut, as he won the Negishi Stakes (G3) at Tokyo—his first win in 26 months. Nonetheless he was only fourth betting choice in the February, witnessed by a crowd of 50,194.