Newly crowned NHK Mile Cup champion Meiner Ho O could throw his hat into the ring for the upcoming Japanese Derby after the colt became the top 3-year-old miler in the country on Sunday.
Meiner Ho O came out of nowhere to capture his first Grade 1 title by winning the NHK Mile Cup as the 10th choice in a full field of 18 in a time of 1 minute, 32.7 seconds on firm going at Tokyo Racecourse.
Meiner Ho O finished a neck in front of sixth choice Impulse Hero after a close stretch duel that also involved eighth pick Flamme de Gloire, who took third another neck behind.
The wild afternoon in Fuchu led to a trifecta payout of more than ¥1.23 million to the minimum ¥100.
Trainer Yoshihiro Hatakeyama, who won the race for his first time as did jockey Daichi Shibata, believes the 1,600 meters could be Meiner Ho O’s best distance but hinted at his entry in the May 26 Derby over 2,400 meters.
“He ran his heart out today so we’ll see,” Hatakeyama said. “I’ll have to watch the race again and think about it.”
“To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure where we’d end up on the backstretch. But there were a lot of horses who like to race toward the front so I thought that might work to our favor.”
Top pick A Shin Top flamed out to seventh while second favorite Geyersworth barely made the board at fifth.
On a perfect day for racing, Copano Richard set the pace as expected after third choice Red Arion broke last, stumbling out of the gate to virtually nix himself all chances of victory.
Meiner Ho O was fourth from the rear as the pack began bunching up around the final turn leading into the 525-meter homestretch. But Shibata had the traffic well read, bringing his mount wide to seize the lead over the last several strides, cashing in a first-place check of ¥92 million.
Shibata shed tears of joy after winning his first Grade 1 flat race.
“I don’t remember anything about the race,” said Shibata, who was at a total loss for words during the post-race interview. “I was just tugging on the rein with everything I had.”
“I always felt he had talent but I admit, I thought it was 50-50 given how good the field was. I’m really proud of this result; it’s a dream come true.”
Meiner Ho O, by Suzuka Phoenix out of Tenzan Rose, is just 4-for-10 for his career with earnings of ¥155 million. Sunday’s win was his first graded victory.