FUNABASHI, CHIBA PREF. – First-pick Gold Ship capped the Olympic year with a remarkable run in the season-ending Arima Kinen to win his third Grade 1 title on Sunday.
Gold Ship, who became the third consecutive 3-year-old to win the race, traveled second from the rear during the 2,500-meter journey before jockey Hiroyuki Uchida made his move from the second to last turn.
Chugging like a freight train on the far outside, the Naosuke Sugai-trained colt held off 10th-choice Ocean Blue by a length and a half to pass the winning post in 2 minutes, 31.9 seconds in the world’s highest-grossing race along with the Grand National.
The crowd of more than 101,000 at Nakayama Racecourse — among them London boxing gold-medalist Ryota Murata and silver-winning fencer Yuki Ota — was in delirium as the race favorite won for the third time in five years.
“I think it’s fitting that a horse with ‘gold’ in his name won the finale of an Olympic year,” said Uchida, a first-time Arima Kinen winner alongside Sugai. “I’m so relieved. He looked big and strong today and I knew he was primed for a big race. I really liked our chances, even against the older horses.
“I can only tip my hat for the race he ran.”
Second-favorite Rulership acted up in the gate, starting the race several lengths behind a fan-chosen field of 16.
The 5-year-old, who is set to retire according to jockey Craig Williams, finished third, playing catchup just as he did in the Japan Cup and the fall Tenno-sho.
“I feel sorry for the fans,” Williams said of Rulership, who was second in the fan voting behind defending champion Orfevre, who did not enter. “Because we’ve been working on him a lot for the past two weeks and it didn’t happen.”
Uchida was in his fourth Arima Kinen and finally came through aboard Gold Ship, who also won two Triple Crown races in 2012, the Satsuki-sho (Japanese 2,000 Guineas) and the Kikka-sho (Japanese St. Leger).
The 42-year-old had missed the Arima Kinen a year ago, recovering from a broken back he suffered in a frightening fall during a race in May.
“I was telling myself, ‘If I can’t win it today, I’ll never win it,’ ” Uchida said. “Last year, I was watching Orfevre win this race on television. And to win it myself a year later is an amazing feeling.
“Gold Ship helped me win my first graded race back from the injury and now he’s helped me win the Arima Kinen. I can’t thank him enough.”
Sugai said the targets for the spring will be the Tenno-sho and the Takarazuka Kinen. The trainer made it clear he will keep Gold Ship in Japan for next season with an eye on the Dubai World Cup or the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe for 2014.
The Stay Gold son, out of Point Flag, is now 7-for-10 for his career with earnings of more than ¥639 million.
“This is just the beginning for him,” Sugai said. “He’ll only be four next year so he’ll have plenty of races ahead of him.”