FUNABASHI, Chiba Pref. — No Christmas cheer awaited this year’s superstar Deep Impact on Sunday, at least not in the form of an Arima Kinen victory and its 180-million yen winner’s bounty.

News photoFour-year-old colt Heart’s Cry (left) beats out Triple Crown winner and heavily favored Deep Impact (right) in the final Grade One race Arima Kinen at Nakayama Racecourse in Funabashi, Chiba Pref.

Instead, this year’s Triple Crown champion was handed the first defeat of his career, a loss by half a length to Japan Cup runnerup and race fourth pick Heart’s Cry. Sixth-choice Lincoln and 10th-pick Cosmo Bulk finished in third and fourth place, respectively.

Thousands of well-wishers packed the Nakayama stands on Christmas Day for the 50th running of the yearend finale.

A total of 1,480 people had waited outside the gates overnight to try to get a trackside position. By 7 a.m., over 6,500 people had gathered outside the venue.

In all, more than 162,000 racing fans made their way to the Nakayama racetrack Sunday in the hopes of — no, the expectations of — seeing Deep Impact extend his winning streak to eight. Instead, forced to accept the unacceptable, the winner of Sunday’s Arima was met not with cheers, but with stunned silence.

It had all looked fine, until the final moments.

Deep Impact took up a characteristic rearward position, progressing slowly to midpack by the backstretch and to within striking distance by the final turn. From there, however, something went amiss.

His rider, Yutaka Take, was at a lost to understand just what.

“He was fine till the final turn. He was relaxed and running well. But when he changed leads and I gave him a smack with the whip, there was no response, no kick. He didn’t give me his usual flying leap, his usual burst of speed. I have no idea why,” Take said with bewilderment. “He could have won today. He has the ability. I just don’t know what happened.”

In contrast, French rider Chrstophe Lemaire was on cloud nine and Heart’s Cry’s trainer, Kojiro Hashiguchi, was with him.

“We did it! At last!” were the words that came from Hashiguchi as his colt crossed the line in first. “Our turn finally, finally came!”

Indeed, Heart’s Cry, had become somewhat of a perennial second-best, failing to win since last May, but finishing second four times in his last 10 races.

This time, however, Lemaire decided to change his tactics.

“After the Japan Cup, I reflected long and hard. He had run well, so I decided I would change,” he said.

For the first time in his 17 races, Heart’s Cry was given a frontseat position. Usually remaining far off the pace, in his second Arima bid he raced from the front, just behind pacesetters Tap Dance city, Cosmo Bulk and Osumi Haruka. He was able to gain the lead with 200 meters to go and with it the win.

Heart’s Cry, by Sunday Silence out of the Tony Bin mare Irish Dance, was bred at Teruya Yoshida’s Shadai Farm in Hokkaido. He is owned by the same, under the Shadai Race Horse name.

The bay 4-year-old is now 4 for 16, with nearly 556 million yen in earnings. His winning time in the Arima was 2 minutes 31.9 seconds. It was the first win of the Arima for both trainer Hashiguchi and jockey Lemaire.

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