Vodka dominating in latest win

by Barbara Bayer

Vodka, with characteristic aplomb, dropped jaws at Tokyo Racecourse with yet another inebriating performance, laying waste to the all-female, 18-strong field of the Victoria Mile on Sunday to win by 7 lengths. With the win, Vodka became the first horse to notch four top-level firsts at Tokyo — the Derby, Yasuda Memorial, Emperor’s Cup, and Victoria Mile.

It was Vodka’s first win after three losses, the first victory since edging Daiwa Scarlett in the fall Emperor’s Cup last year by the shortest of noses. An agonizing wait after the Emperor’s Cup had Yutaka Take ready to accept a dead heat.

“Today,” he deadpanned, “I knew I’d won.”

Breaking well and holding the sixth position, Vodka ran smoothly despite the strong winds. Rounding neatly two off the rail into the straight, she moved up with “a response that was almost too good,” according to Take, and put 3 lengths between her and rest of the field by the 200-meter mark.

She then just kept on gaining to the line clocking 1:32.4 over the 1,600 meters of fast turf. Granted, the field of 18 was not particularly strong, though it did include three group 1 winners in addition to Vodka. At the windows, the super mare captured nearly half the entire pool of bets to win, which pushed odds down for a mere ¥170 return on a ¥100 ticket.

Take admitted, “She was Horse of the Year last year so it was a race we just had to win. I did pretty much think it was a given today, but you never know with racing.”

Vodka, now 5, “has gotten very good at racing,” said trainer Kazuhiko Sumii, who says she is a quiet and easy-to-handle mare. “When a race draws near, however, her tension rises. She did kick another horse out of action last week during training,” Sumii admitted.

The Ritto-based trainer plans to next field Vodka in the Yasuda Memorial June 7 at Tokyo.

Just back from two disappointing finishes with Vodka in Dubai, Sumii said his only goal was to maintain the condition she carried Sunday at Tokyo.

Extremely strong winds rippled the turf grass presented a powerful head wind in the straight but failed to faze Vodka. She was so calm before the race that Take said he and the groom actually wondered if something wasn’t amiss. Apparently, nothing was.