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KYOTO — The winner of last year’s Japanese St. Leger’s, Hishi Miracle, came from off the pace Sunday at Kyoto Racecourse to capture the Emperor’s Cup by half a length over Sunrise Jaeger.

Heavy favorite Daitaku Bertram, caught in traffic at the final bend, had to settle for third place a neck behind the runnerup. Tsurumaru Boy finished in fourth place, with Dantsu Flame, the only other Grade I winner in this year’s lineup, crossing the line in fifth.

The 3,200-meter spring version of the Emperor’s Cup (run twice a year), saw its first full gate of 18 in eight years. With no strong frontrunners in its ranks, the race got off to an expectedly slow start with Ar Alan and Tagano My Bach leading until the final stages and the top finishers all remaining rearward of midpack until well into the second lap.

After tracking Daitaku Bertram, with Yutaka Take on board, Koichi Tsunoda moved early, bringing Hishi Miracle steadily up the field as the horses rounded into the final bend.

With a clear run into the straight, Hishi Miracle snagged the lead from before the 200-meter mark and held on as the frontrunners dropped back.

Though Tsurumaru Boy gained ground impressively on the rail he proved no threat to Daitaku Bertram and Sunrise Jaeger, bearing down neck-and-neck on the finish in high gear.

Sunrise Jaeger caught and passed the favorite with four strides to go for the second-place spot.

Tsunoda admitted he’d been far from confident about winning what is considered to be Japan’s most prestigious race.

“I didn’t feel like I had that much horse under me for most of the race but he’s a horse that’ll give you all he has. I moved him out early, took a safe lead and just hoped he’d hold out.”

It was the first Emperor’s Cup win for both Tsunoda and trainer Masaru Sayama.

Sayama, who had sworn to shave his head if his horse didn’t make it into the top three, was a picture of relief after the race.

Hishi Miracle, a gray colt by Soccer Boy, out of Shunsaku Yoshiko, by Shady Heights, was bred at Otsuka Farm in Mitsuishi, Hokkaido.

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