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T.M. Opera O wins Japan Cup

by Barbara Bayer

International company failed to stop Japan’s champion, as the record favorite T.M. Opera O bested the competition yet again, this time for his seventh race straight, with a neck win of the 20th running of the Japan Cup at Tokyo Racecourse on Sunday.

Up against eight of Japan’s best horses and seven foreign entrants intent on taking home the 250 million yen winner’s share, T.M. Opera O gave it his characteristic best, hitting the highest note of his career thus far and keeping the money at home for the third year in a row.

Though no strong front-runners were anticipated to rev up the pace of this year’s race, a unanimous cry of disbelief rose from the crowd as Stay Gold took the lead from the gate. With Stay Gold dallying in front, the pace dropped to a crawl, wreaking havoc with many of the foreign entrants. It was, in fact, the slowest first 1,000 meters ever run in the Japan Cup’s 20 years. T.M. Opera O took it in stride, settling in two widths off the rail in sixth position.

As the pace picked up rounding the turn, the chestnut Opera O gained on the front taking the lead from the top of the slope with 200 meters to go. Ahead by a neck, jockey Ryuji Wada said later: “I felt we had it in the bag, just as long as I could keep him out there.”

Impassioned urgings of the whip helped secure victory with the battle for second too close to call. Minutes later, to a rousing moan from the stands, Meisho Doto was named runnerup, a short nose over second pick UAE entrant Fantastic Light. The British filly Ela Athena was fourth.

As Wada rode T.M. Opera O slowly back toward the stands, the crowd of close to 110,000 erupted into a congratulatory cry, as a chant of “Ryu-ji, Ryu-ji” went up. Unbeaten this year, the Japan Cup title has undoubtedly assured T.M. Opera O the Horse of the Year title as well.

Being picked as favorite was nothing new for the Opera O-Wada team and Sunday was no exception. Over 50 percent of all wagerers picked Opera O to win, the highest level of support ever in the Japan Cup’s history.

In contrast, second-choice Fantastic Light garnered less than 9 percent of the bets placed to win. “I’m used to it,” Wada said matter-of-factly.

T.M. Opera O is now the No. 1 money earner worldwide, having amassed over 1.21 billion yen from his 18 starts.