If ever there felt like a sure thing in racing, it was watching Deep Impact cruise down the stretch in the Japan Derby at Tokyo Racecourse on Sunday.

He has known, in five starts, only winning. And the Derby was to prove no exception.

Deep Impact gained the lead at the 300-meter mark with attitude and widened his margin with a nonchalance that made the competition — 17 elite 3-year-old colts — look more like aging geldings.

He breezed over the finish line five lengths ahead of second-pick Inti Raimi in a time that matched last year’s record 2 minutes, 23.3 seconds over 2,400 meters of firm turf.

Six Sense finished in third place 2 1/2 lengths later.

The crowd, having pushed odds rock bottom on the Satsukisho champ Deep Impact, was ecstatic. Even the press seats were filled with gaping mouths and shaking heads and exclamations of awe. This was Triple Crown stuff, not seen since Japan’s last megachamp, Triple Crown winner Narita Brian, in 1994.

The crowd cheered wildly as winning jockey Yutaka Take raised his fist again and again from the backstretch, then fans took up a chant of “Yu-ta-ka, Yu-ta-ka,” as Take circled Deep Impact slowly back to the roaring stands.

“He’s amazing, really an amazing horse,” the usually cool, collected Take said with unabashed emotion.

Not overly striking to look at, Deep Impact is a slight colt at only 448 kg. But a closer look shows he is huge through the chest, a big heart, big lungs — a virtual running machine.

Deep Impact was slow out of the gate and bided his time just four from the rear. Still, there was not a rumble of concern to be heard from the stands, so confident were fans in the favorite’s superiority.

Into the final bend Take brought Deep Impact wide, rounding on the far outside into the stretch.

Inti Raimi went in fourth position the entire race, hugging the rail.

At the top of the homestretch, Take gave his mount a nudge.

“Just like in the Satsukisho, I felt him losing interest,” Take said. “I thought it was a bit early to take the top but I figured he could do it.”

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