Fans were kept waiting over a quarter of an hour for a decision on the Oaks on Sunday at Fuchu after Tall Poppy squeezed her way up the ranks to the top of the field with some 50 meters to go and held on for the eventually acknowledged win of the Oaks’ 69th running.
Despite an outside No. 15 draw, the eighth-place finisher in the mile Okasho on April 13 was able to find an inside spot, save ground, and, given the gutsy riding of Kenichi Ikezoe, claim her second group I race after the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies in December.
Globe-trotting trainer Katsuhiko Sumii expressed relief at the win, which was Tall Poppy’s first in three starts since the Juvenile.
“She had done so well as a 2-year-old that I felt really bad about not having been able to meet expectations,” Sumii said.
Ikezoe’s comments expressed more apology than relief, though his ready smile belied his joy.
“I’m sorry for any trouble I caused anyone during the race,” the 28-year-old Ikezoe said, referring to the homestretch squeeze that the pair pulled off at the top of the slope.
The inquiry, however, showed Ikezoe and Tall Poppy did not interfere with any of the other 17 fillies running in the spring 3-year-old classic.
The course change from the previous day, in which the inside rail was moved to reveal new turf, helped give Ikezoe his strategy for the race.
“I planned to stick to the inside if we could as the turf wasn’t torn up there at all,” he said. “She felt really good in the preliminaries and I’m just really happy we could stage such a strong comeback.”
Tall Poppy, fourth choice at the windows, covered the 2,400 meters of slightly yielding turf in 2 minutes 28.8 seconds and edged longshot No. 6 F.T. Maia over the line by a head, with No. 10 Okasho champion Reginetta in third place a length and a half later. No. 7 Black Emblem and No. 17 Odile made the board in fourth and fifth place, respectively.
Race favorite Little Amapola disappointed with a seventh-place finish, a performance that had rider Koshiro Take shaking his head.
“She felt really good early on, so much so that I am really at a loss to say what happened toward the end.”
Tall Poppy, owned by U. Carrot Farm, is based at Western Japan’s Ritto Training Center. She is by Jungle Pocket out of the Sunday Silence mare Admire Sunday and was bred at Northern Farm in Hokkaido. The win of the Oaks was worth ¥97 million. A ¥100 ticket on the winner returned ¥970. Longshot runnerup F.T. Maia boosted the winning exacta 15-6 to ¥39,320 for ¥100 down.