“I didn’t think she could catch them in time,” said the trainer. “I was scared,” admitted the jockey. But, once again, Vodka left the stands reeling as she showed just what a fine grain she is. Weaving her way out of a death trap in the stretch, she knocked back her second win of the Yasuda Memorial in two years straight, capturing the race at Fuchu on Sunday by three-quarters of a length over Deep Sky.
“I screwed up,” winning jockey Yutaka Take blurted out to friends as he made his way to the awards ceremony after the Yasuda, but in the postrace interview his self-critique resounded a bit gentler.
“I was scared, but I knew that if we could just get an opening, she had what it took to get to the front in time,” Take said.
Blocked one wide off the rail, it had looked hopeless for Vodka. The wall ahead was thick and time was running out. Take seemed to dance his mount right and left and forward as if to scare wide an opening. He then resorted to pulling Vodka sharply out and pushed forward in an attempt to split the two horses still blocking him. With less than 200 meters left in the race, Vodka gutsily pushed her way between them, and they gave way.
“She must have felt like a lady in a packed train of men as she tried desperately to get out,” Take said.
With the door finally open, Vodka lunged forward, then caught and passed the front-running Deep Sky just in time.
Hats, racing programs, and tickets flew into the air as she crossed the finish line and yet again answered fans’ expectations as the favorite, the first favorite to win the Yasuda Kinen in 11 years.
“Relief” was the word trainer Katsuhiko Sumii had for the final moment. Owner Yuzo Tanimizu turned to Take in the awards ceremony and said, “don’t scare me like that again, please.”
An inside draw and a fast pace, however, left Take few options in the mile event.
“If I’d had a choice I would have stayed off the rail,” he said. “The rain had stopped and the clear skies were drying the track with every minute that passed. Still, the inside was quite torn up and hard to run over.”
“You couldn’t praise my riding much today,” Take said and expressed his renewed respect for Vodka. While soaring temperatures had other horses sweating and lathered in the pre-parade ring, Vodka was, as one overseas journalist put it, “cool as a cucumber.” The jostling in the stretch failed to faze the 5-year-old mare as had the crowds when Take walked her to the rail for a closer look in the preliminaries.
“I couldn’t have done that a year ago,” he said. “She has matured in many ways.”
Hong Kong’s two entrants, last year’s Yasuda runnerup Armada and this year’s Champions’ Mile winner Sight Winner, were no match for the strong field of the Yasuda. Sight Winner finished sixth and Armada eighth.
Following second pick Deep Sky over the line was 10th choice Faridat, with fourth choice Company finishing fourth and 15th pick Live Concert making the board in fifth place. Vodka clocked 1 minute 33.5 seconds over the 1,600 meters. She has now captured five group 1 races at Tokyo, the most of any horse in Japanese racing history.
Vodka (by Tanino Gimlet out of the Rousillon mare Tanino Sister) was bred at Country Bokujo in Hokkaido’s Shizunai. With the ¥100 million first-place prize money of the Yasuda, Vodka has earned her owner over ¥1 billion yen from 9 wins in 22 starts.
No. 3 Vodka paid ¥180 to win, ¥110 to place. No. 6 Deep Sky paid ¥130 to place and No. 4 Faridat ¥620 to show. The winning exacta 3-6 returned ¥460, the trifecta 3-6-4 paid ¥10,000.