Wagnerian parlayed clear sailing and firm footing to a half-length victory in the 85th running of the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby, G1) May 27 at Tokyo Racecourse.
Previously undefeated favorite Danon Premium, by contrast, was boxed in through the final 200 meters and finished sixth, beaten only about a length.
Wagnerian, a bay colt by Deep Impact, was hustled out of gate 17 and raced three wide, several lengths behind the leaders, as the field toured the backstretch. Jockey Yuichi Fukunaga asked for a bit more as they straightened into the uphill climb at the top of the stretch, and Wagnerian obliged with a steady effort.
Epoca d'Oro, an Orfevre colt, finished second in a tight knot of rivals behind Wagnerian, a neck in front of 222-1 longshot Cosmic Force. Wagnerian finished the 2,400 meters (1 1/2 miles) in 2:23.60.
Wagnerian is the record fourth Tokyo Yushun winner for owner and breeder Kaneko Makoto Holdings, following King Kamehameha in 2004, Deep Impact in 2005, and Makahiki in 2016. Wagnerian's dam, Miss Encore, is by King Kamehameha.
Winning trainer Yasuo Tomomichi also trained Makahiki. Fukunaga won the race for the first time in his 19th appearance.
"The staff did a terrific job in preparing the colt, and he just gave his best," Fukunaga said. "I just drove him feverishly to the line. I've won grade 1 races in Tokyo before, but to win the Derby is totally a different story. I was beginning to have doubts after having so many chances, but thanks to the support of my family and so many others, I'm thrilled to have won at last."
Wagnerian won all three starts as a 2-year-old and finished second in his 3-year-old debut, the Hochi Hai Yayoi Sho (G2) at Nakayama, when he was stretched out to 2,000 meters (1 1/4 miles). He was the odds-on favorite in the Satsuki Sho (Japanese Two Thousand Guineas, G1) but finished seventh over a soft course not suited to his late-running style.
The Tokyo Yushun, the second leg of the Japanese Triple Crown, is one of the most popular races for the country's racing fans, and 126,767 packed Tokyo Racecourse. The US$3.93 million purse is the third largest in the generous Japanese program, trailing only the Japan Cup (G1) and the Arima Kinen (G1).