FUNABASHI – Ninth favorite Al Ain won the 77th running of the Satsuki-sho on Sunday at Nakayama Racecourse, covering the 2,000-meter course in a record 1 minute, 57.8 seconds.
Jockey Kohei Matsuyama secured his first Grade 1 win in his nine-year career, steering Al Ain behind the leading pack before sneaking past fourth-favorite Persian Knight, ridden by record four-time winner Mirco Demuro, down the stretch by a neck.
Twelfth-pick Danburite was a further three-quarters of a length behind in third, while top favorite Fan Dii Na, bidding to be the first filly in 69 years to win the race for three-year-olds, temporarily led on the stretch but couldn’t pull away and finished seventh.
“I can’t believe it. We were out of synch in the third and fourth corners where the turf was bad, but he gained pace down the stretch,” Matsuyama said. “He’s a really strong horse and has the flexibility (to adjust to how races unfold) as well as agility.”
It was the second Satsuki-sho win and the 17th Grade 1 victory for trainer Yasutoshi Ikee, who also trains runner-up Persian Knight.
“I just had my eyes on Persian Knight and heard the announcement calling Al Ain. I was so excited near the end (of the race),” he said after becoming the third trainer to achieve a one-two Satsuki-sho finish.
The winner’s purse is worth ¥100 million ($920,000).