Manhattan Cafe scooped the prize at Kyoto in the spring Emperor’s Cup holding off Jungle Pocket by a neck for 132 million yen and a perfect three-for-three Grade 1 record.

For a change, this week’s big race held no surprises, with race heavyweights sweeping the top three spots. Jungle Pocket, 2001 Japan Cup winner and horse of the year, crossed the line in second after an impressive burst of speed powered him from six horses back at the top of the stretch to within arm’s reach of victory.

Overtaken about 50 meters out was race favorite Narita Top Road, who finished in third place a half-length behind Jungle Pocket.

The prestigious win was the third in a row for the Hokkaido-bred Manhattan Cafe, following wins of the Kikkasho and Arima Memorial last year. His last time out, in the March 23 Nikkeisho at Nakayama, however, ended in a sixth-place finish, which helped to bring up his odds Sunday.

“Relief” was what rider Masayoshi Ebina said he felt postrace, after last outing’s poor showing and a full lap with the top contenders breathing down his back. For most of the race, the “big three” played a game of “wait-and-see” with second pick Manhattan Cafe in fifth position just ahead of Narita Top Road, stalked closely on the outside by star jock Yutaka Take aboard third pick Jungle Pocket.

Ebina says he wasn’t to be shaken though. “I didn’t know when the others would make their move but I wasn’t worried. I planned on just riding nice and steady,” he said.

Into the final bend Narita Top Road put the pressure on Manhattan Cafe, sending him forward. At the top of the straight Jungle Pocket rocketed ahead but Ebina’s near frantic urgings kept his mount just out of reach. “He went a bit sooner than I’d wanted to but he had a lot left in him,” Ebina claimed later.

Manhattan Cafe covered the final 600 meters in a mere 34.3 seconds. His winning time was 3:19.5 over fast turf.

It was Ebina’s second win of the Emperor’s Cup, his first of the spring version. Former jockey Futoshi Kojima, who trains Manhattan Cafe, notched his first win of the race.

Manhattan Cafe has now earned nearly 523 million yen for owner Kiyoshi Nishikawa. Over 96,000 people attended the race at Kyoto Racecourse. Turnover on the Emperor’s Cup alone exceeded 25.5 billion yen.

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