FUNABASHI, Chiba Pref. — The stand rumbled with discontent Sunday as the horses reached the finish line in the Satsukisho — the first leg of the Japanese triple crown.
The rumble arose from a feeling, albeit misplaced, of betrayal at the overwhelming favorite, Logi Universe, no where in sight. Nearly 50 percent of all bets to win had been placed on the four-for-four Logi Universe, thought to be, as the name would indicate, the logical choice.
But really, who, with any sense, takes logic to the races?
Unrivaled, the horse with the far better name although he had actually lost one of his four races, was the one to scoop the ¥97 million top prize at Nakayama Racecourse before 71,000 expectant fans. Unrivaled clocked 1 minute 58.7 seconds over the 2,000 meters of turf.
Logi Universe failed to show any spark after a bit of noise made early in the race and crossed the wire with only four horses behind him. If it could serve as any solace to the disgruntled, however, Unrivaled and Logi Universe both were sired by the same stallion — Nippon Derby winner Neo Universe.
In second place was Triumph March, race eighth pick with only a backing of about 13 percent of all bets to win and unable to do much to brighten the spirits of those punters hoping to cover the stretch till payday.
But those who love a good race, got it. And those who love to see some amazing footwork, saw it.
A fast track and a brisk pace took the 18-strong, all-male field over the first 1,000 meters in under a minute with Golden Ticket and Early Robusto in the lead. Unrivaled, running under Yasunari Iwata as if the two were one, held back past midfield.
Eventual runnerup Triumph March kept even further back, toward the very rear. The rumblings from the stand started in the first turn, when Logi Universe, in about fourth position and likely uneasy at the high pace, lost his cool and leaped forward. Down the backstretch, however, he appeared to settle.
The fancy footwork came at the final turn, when Unrivaled moved up on the outside, Triumph March took the cue to spurt forward. As the horses straightened for home, Iwata looked back over his right shoulder, saw he was clear of the others and turned Unrivaled sharply in.
From there he sprinted home, moving diagonally into the rail with Triumph March gaining ground on the far outside. Both riders took to their whips and urged their mounts on strongly, with Unrivaled claiming first place by a length-and-a-half.
Race fourth-choice Seiun Wonder placed third a half-length behind Triumph March. Schon Wald and Best Member finished fourth and fifth, respectively. Second-pick Reach the Crown finished in 13th place, one place ahead of Logi Universe.
Ritto-based winning trainer Yasuo Tomomichi said he had seen Unrivaled off with confidence.
“He was calm, much calmer than last time out. I had no worries and only left it to the jockey,” said Tomomichi, who notched his first Satsukisho. “I thought if he didn’t win today I could feel that there was nothing I could have done about it.”
It was the first win of the classic for jockey Iwata as well.
“He was in great shape and really felt good,” Iwata said of Unrivaled. “He and I were totally in tune, totally together. At the final bend, the acceleration was amazing, really amazing,” Iwata said opening his eyes wide in emphasis.
Though talk immediately turned to the Derby, Iwata pleaded for reporters to keep the pressure off.
“I have been all nerves for the past week and only now, with the sense of responsibility finally off me, will I finally be able to sleep well tonight.”
Unrivaled, by Neo Universe, out of the Sadler’s Wells mare Ballet Queen, was bred at Northern Farm in Hokkaido and is owned by Sunday Racing. Now four-for-five, his earnings are just shy of ¥218 million.