T.M. Opera O continued to roll, notching his sixth straight win this year with a 2 1/2-length victory in the 122nd Emperor’s Cup at Tokyo on Sunday.
Running as No. 13, the 4-year-old chestnut champion blasted not only the “jinx” that has kept the race favorite from the winner’s circle of the race’s fall version for the past 12 years, but a similar jinx on his young rider, Ryuji Wada, who until Sunday had never won at the Tokyo course.
Irish-bred Meisho Doto and American-born Eagle Cafe, who comprised the foreign-bred quota allowed to participate in the Emperor’s Cup from this year, finished second and fourth, respectively. Tunante claimed third place.
Bucking not only a double jinx, but an outside post position deemed difficult for a Tokyo 2,000-meter race, rider Wada managed to bring T.M. Opera O in to the rail, though narrowly missing an inquiry for interference.
“The start was everything. I knew I had to get inside or I’d have ended up much further back,” Wada said.
His maneuverings put T.M. Opera O in an advantageous third position one off the rail by the middle of the back stretch, where he settled behind eventual runnerup Meisho Doto till the final turn.
Moving wide as they straightened for home, the pair went neck and neck, with T.M. Opera gaining the lead at the 200-meter mark to finish going away.
Ichizo Iwamoto, trainer of the Opera House-sired horse, was still dancing with joy an hour later. “I shouldn’t say this, but with the jinx and all, I just didn’t know if we could win,” he admitted.
Gushing praise for his charge, he added: “He runs his best even when he’s not in peak condition. He has some delicate points, but they don’t ever get in the way of his performance.”
The 23-year-old Wada, even more generous with his comments, said: “He has no faults. And mentally he’s so tough I wish he’d share some of it with me.”
T.M. Opera O became only the third horse in Japanese history to win both the spring 3,200-meter Emperor’s Cup and the 2,000-meter fall version.
With 10 wins (eight of them in graded races) in 17 starts, T.M. Opera O has now amassed over 960 million yen for owner Masatsugu Hanazono. The Emperor’s Cup win was worth 132 million yen.