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The first big race of the year went down in record time to favorite Meisho Bowler as the 4-year-old held off a field of veterans for a wire-to-wire, length-and-a-quarter win of the February Stakes (Jpn., I) in Tokyo on Sunday.

Bowler pulled off early to a 5-length lead taking to the sloppy track with astonishing ease.

“To be honest I had a hard time holding him back and I was just trying to stay out of the way of the others,” said winning jockey Yuichi Fukunaga.

“I was worried he wouldn’t stay but he was just so fast, he was able to hold on.”

Meisho Bowler, with a time of 1:34.7 over 1,600 meters of dirt, shaved 0.4 seconds off the race record.

Second pick and 2004 winner Admire Don flubbed the start and a mad rush to catch up put him over the line a disappointing fifth.

Seeking the Dia, with Olivier Peslier up, took second place in the grade-1 mile, with Hishi Atlas and Time Paradox in third and fourth, respectively.

Meisho Bowler, owned by Yoshio Matsumoto and trained by the Ritto-based Toshiaki Shirai, extended his winning streak to three with the grade-1 victory, his first top-level win in a career six tries. Meisho Bowler, by champion miler Taiki Shuttle, was bred at Hinode Farm in Hokkaido’s Urakawa.

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