Gentildonna became the first 3-year-old filly to win the Japan Cup on Sunday, but the victory was marked by controversy after she prompted a lengthy stewards’ inquiry for interfering with Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe runnerup Orfevre.
Gentildonna, the filly’s triple crown champion who went off as the third choice, nearly lost the ¥250 million winner’s check after ramming into triple crown winner and favorite Orfevre, who lost balance as he was switching gears on the final straight at Tokyo Racecourse.
The Yasunari Iwata-ridden Gentildonna, who had a 4-kg handicap, held on to win by a nose in the first-ever meeting between the two different triple crown champions of Japan.
Iwata, who also won the race last season aboard the retired Buena Vista, apologized for his wild riding, but the result stood after a 20-minute debate.
Second pick Rulership took third, having to play catchup after breaking last as Gentildonna won in 2 minutes, 23.1 seconds over 2,400 meters.
“I should have done a better job of escorting her through the race,” Iwata said. “We bumped into Orfevre a little bit and I can’t deny it’s left a bitter taste in my mouth.
“For that I am sorry, but please credit the horse because it’s no easy feat for a 3-year-old filly to beat an incredible racehorse like Orfevre.”
The trainer for 4-year-old Orfevre, Yasutoshi Ikee, was not a happy camper after losing a perfectly winnable race amid such a dispute.
“Did you guys watch the race again?” Ikee said. “There was space on the inside. He didn’t have to move her next to Orfevre. But it’s the JRA’s decision. All we can do is obey.
“I’m proud of my horse, though. He ran his heart out.”
The 32nd Japan Cup was hyped as the big rematch between Orfevre and Solemia, the 4-year-old filly from France who won the Arc over Orfevre last month.
Solemia, though, never had a moment in the final start of her career, finishing 13th out of 17. Of the five horses from overseas in Japan’s richest race, the British-trained Red Cadeaux came in eighth.
“I’m not making any excuses,” Solemia’s jockey Olivier Peslier said. “The race was clean for us.”
Gentildonna got off to a smooth start, and stalked pacesetter and spring Tenno-sho winner Black Beat throughout the journey. Orfevre traveled near the back, waiting for his time on the 525-meter stretch.
But Gentildonna was anything but smooth as the pack came home, colliding into Orfevre while trying to navigate her way around Black Beat who was quickly running out of steam.
Jockey Kenichi Ikezoe had to get Orfevre to regroup before making another run for the wire but could not overtake the undoubtedly talented Gentildonna, whose trainer Sei Ishizaka hinted at racing her in the Arc next season.
“It’s every Japanese horseman’s dream,” Ishizaka said of the race at Longchamp. “The Arc is definitely one of our options.
“I’ve had the opportunity to train a lot of good horses in my career, but it didn’t take long for me to learn she was in a separate class.
“I was convinced she could handle the competition at the Japan Cup, and she proved it today.”
The Deep Impact-sired Gentildonna, only the fourth Japanese filly’s triple crown winner, is 7-for-9 for her career with earning of just under ¥690 million.