Reigning horse of the year Gentildonna became the first back-to-back winner of the Japan Cup with a historic photo-finish victory over Denim and Ruby on Sunday at Tokyo Racecourse.
The 4-year-old Gentildonna, in her first partnership with English jockey Ryan Moore and who hadn’t won yet in three previous starts this season, was declared the winner by a nose in Japan’s richest race with a purse of ¥521 million — ¥250 million of it going to the champion.
Her time on firm going was 2 minutes, 26.1 seconds over 2,400 meters in an unexpectedly slow race paced by third choice Eishin Flash, who fizzled to 10th. Second pick and four-time Grade 1 champion Gold Ship sunk to a shocking 15th in a field of 17, and 11th-favorite Tosen Jordan claimed third a neck behind Denim and Ruby.
“I think it was a little too close for my liking,” said Moore, who lifted the Japan Cup for his first time before a crowd of more than 97,000 and captured his third Grade 1 title on Japanese soil. “She’s obviously very talented.”
“From what I’d seen of her, she’s never run a bad race. Every time, she’s showed up and either won or finished second or third. Her form this year, although she hadn’t been winning, she looked very good.”
After the Deep Impact-sired Gentildonna was runnerup in last month’s Tenno-sho, trainer Sei Ishizaka made the harsh decision to drop jockey Yasunari Iwata, who guided the horse to the filly’s triple crown and the Japan Cup last season.
“We’re in the results business,” Ishizaka said. “I had made up my mind right after the Tenno-sho was over.”
Moore, who claimed he felt no pressure as a foreigner unable to understand what was being said or written about him in the build-up to the race, had Gentildonna two horses off the pace, a position he admitted wasn’t expecting to be in.
With Denim and Ruby — who enjoyed a 4-kg handicap as a 3-year-old filly — coming from behind, Moore wasn’t sure if Gentildonna could hang on, and even after crossing the line he didn’t want to celebrate prematurely as the Buena Vista camp did three years ago before being demoted for interference.
“I thought I’d won on the line, but then (Denim and Ruby’s rider) Suguru Hamanaka was shouting and I wasn’t sure if he was shouting because he had won or not,” Moore recalled. “I always remember before with Buena Vista thinking she had won — and she hadn’t won. So I didn’t want to start getting too excited.”
Gentildonna, now 8-for-13, took her earnings to more than ¥1.1 billion, making her the third most successful female horse of all time behind Buena Vista (¥1.39 billion) and Vodka (¥1.35 billion). Her next start will be in the spring, Ishizaka said.