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TAKARAZUKA, Hyogo Pref. — Kane Hekili and French jockey Christophe Lemaire won a thrilling battle in the final 100 meters of the ninth Japan Cup Dirt, when they held off the late challenges of Meisho Tokon and the race favorite, Vermilion, to land the first-prize purse of ¥130 million.

The final leg of JRA’s Japan Autumn International attracted a field of 16 runners and was run in good conditions on Sunday afternoon at Hanshin Racecourse.

It was a tough day, however, for the three American runners declared for the 1,800-meter race. Early in the morning, Mast Track was withdrawn due to injury, leaving just Frost Giant and Tin Cup Chalice to fly the flag for overseas hopefuls. The former got very worked up in the preliminaries and was never a factor in the race, while Tin Cup Chalice led the field for some way before dropping out of contention.

Tin Cup Chalice’s jockey, Edgar Prado, remained positive afterward.

“We broke well and inherited the lead. The horse was always trying hard and considering the step up in class wasn’t beaten too far,” Prado said.

Frost Giant and Tin Cup Chalice finished 12th and 13th, respectively.

As the runners broke from the gates, it was soon the American horse’s red silks were leading the way, with Success Brocken and Furioso making do with second and third. Down the back straight, Success Brocken was driven on to take the lead, with Casino Drive and Vermilion traveling well on the outside. Eventual winner Kane Hekili was settled on the inside just off the leaders.

As they made their way up the home stretch, Success Brocken and Casino Drive lost momentum, while Kane Hekili cruised through on the inside, with Meisho Tokon and Vermilion giving chase on the outside. Jockey Lemaire did a great job keeping the 6-year-old going on the uphill path to the winning post, beating Meisho Tokon into second, with Vermilion in third. The distances were just a head and a neck, and the winning time was 1 minute, 49.2 seconds.

It was the second time in a month the Frenchman had found himself in the winner’s enclosure after a Group 1 race.

“Of course, it feels great to be here,” Lemaire said. “I was lucky to get the ride, but when good things happen, luck comes your way. The trainer did so well to get the horse into such excellent condition. There were no special instructions, but we had a good start, the track suited my horse, and he has good speed.”

Kane Hekili is a son of Fuji Kiseki and won the Japan Cup Dirt for the second time, after his victory three years ago. The horse is trained by Katsuhiko Sumii, owned by Kaneko Makoto Holdings Co. Ltd., and was bred by Northern Farm.

A ¥100 win ticket paid ¥980, and the quinella dividend for horses 5 and 10 in either order paid ¥11,710.

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