Disappointing as the favorite in the Satsukisho, Logi Universe was able to salvage his reputation in the Japan Derby just over a month later answering fans’ somewhat lesser expectations with a four-length win over fifth pick Reach the Crown.
The stands Sunday at Fuchu erupted with equally as many cheers as they did grumbles as the 18 colts crossed the line. Favorite Unbridled, winner in the Satsukisho, bore the boos as he flubbed the Derby with an 11th-place finish. The cheers on the other hand, though partly for second choice Logi Universe, were also in large part for veteran jockey Norihiro Yokoyama, 41, who managed to capture his first Derby in 15 tries, his first group 1 win in five years.
Excuses for the also-rans were within easy reach Sunday for the classic race’s 76th running. Heavy rain from early afternoon had soaked the turf, turning the track condition to sloppy for the first Derby in 40 years. Prior to the race jockeys shook their heads when asked about the conditions, saying the ground was a mess and it was impossible to see. Fortunately, the rains nearly stopped by post time, in time for a rousing rendition of the national anthem by singer Saburo Kitajima, a national icon and racehorse owner himself.
Jo Cappucino, winner in the NHK Mile May 10, took the lead out of the gate and past the stands, widening the distance between him and the others to some five lengths in the backstretch. Immediately following were Reach the Crown in second position and Logi Universe in third position. Cappucino lost momentum abruptly as the horses straightened for the long Tokyo stretch. Water and mud flew at the turn, blurring the view of the field as the horses reached down for their final kick.
Logi Universe battled steadily on, taking the lead with 200 meters left and hung on to the top as the others slowed in the final moments.
Yokoyama’s win brought tears to many in the stands, but the jockey himself never stopped smiling, as widely as it gets. Yokoyama rode back to the stands for a victory pass, then stopped directly in front of the stands at the rail, doffed his helmet and bowed deeply to the cheering fans. It was a bow of apology and appreciation for the long years of support, support Yokoyama had failed to answer with a winning ticket in the Derby.
Logi Universe, 4-for-4 before the April 19 Satsukisho, had been considered a shoo-in for the Triple Crown first leg. The defeat to Unbridled had been a crushing one.
“I am overjoyed to win,” Yokoyama said of the Derby.
“But I must admit that I feel very bad as well because I didn’t think he had it in him today to win,” the current leading jockey said of his mount. “I didn’t think he was back in shape and I’m sorry I didn’t believe in him.”
Yokoyama was not the only one who felt the colt was not up to a win. “My feeling is mostly of relief,” said trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara, who also bagged his first Derby. He had considered the Satsukisho loss his personal “failure.” The Miho-based Hagiwara said, “Right up to the Derby, I tried to get him back into top form, but I thought we still needed more time.”
The fans, though, were behind Logi Universe. A cheer had gone up in the paddock when the horse weights were posted. A 14-kg gain from his Satsukisho weight gave fans the confidence to back the No. 1 Logi Universe to second pick and an eventual ¥770 return on a ¥100 wager.
Logi Universe (by Neo Universe out of the Cape Cross mare Acoustics) was bred at Northern Farm in Hokkaido and owned by Masaaki Kumeda, and increased his record to 5-for-6 with the Derby win, worth ¥150 million to the winner.
No. 12 Reach the Crown paid ¥430 to place, No. 10 Antonio Barrows cashed in at ¥620 to show. The winning exacta 1-12 paid ¥7,870. The trifecta 1-12-10 returned ¥201,960.