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Heavenly Romance turned the tables on a formidable field of Group 1 winners in Sunday’s Emperor’s Cup at Tokyo Racecourse, as the longshot mare snatched her first top-level win from race favorite and 2004 winner Zenno Rob Roy.

News photoHeavenly Romance and jockey Mikio Matsunaga (center) race to victory at the Emperor’s Cup at Tokyo Racecourse.

Heavenly Romance, the 14th choice in a field of 18, clinched the victory by a head in the race’s last stride before a crowd of over 103,000, including the Emperor and Empress of Japan. It was the first time in 106 years that the Emperor has attended the race.

Filly Dance in the Mood, another longshot at 13th pick, finished in third place a neck later, with Asakusa Denen following in fourth place by a neck.

The Sunday Silence-sired Heavenly Romance, breaking from the No. 1 gate, raced midfield under jockey Mikio Matsunaga through the backstretch. Into the stretch, Heavenly Romance held to the rail within striking distance of the front-runners.

With 50 meters to go, Zenno Rob Roy moved strongly into the lead and looked set for the win, only to be overtaken in the race’s final moment. Winning time was 2 minutes 0.1 seconds over 2,000 meters of fast turf.

The 5-year-old bay mare, bred and owned by North Hills Management, bettered her record to 8 wins in 31 races, and added 132 million yen to her earnings — a total of 392 million yen. It was the first Emperor’s Cup win for both jockey Matsunaga and trainer Shoji Yamamoto.

The Imperial Couple arrived at Tokyo Racecourse shortly after 2 p.m., where they were greeted by ponies Emi and Chappi, and after taking in an exhibit at the racing museum, entered the Memorial Hall stand, from where they watched the 132nd running of one of Japan’s most prestigious races.

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