Christophe Lemaire and Kazuo Fujisawa struck gold for the second straight weekend on Sunday, with the jockey and trainer this time teaming up to win their first Japanese Derby with Rey de Oro.
On a glorious afternoon at Tokyo Racecourse, second choice Rey de Oro won the second race of the Triple Crown in 2 minutes, 26.9 seconds over 2,400 meters, three-quarters of a length ahead of Suave Richard, the third pick in the 18-horse field.
The favorite, Admirable, finished third two lengths behind Rey de Oro, who was fifth in the first Triple Crown race last month, the Satsuki-sho.
Last week also at the Fuchu track, Lemaire and Fujisawa combined to win the Japanese Oaks with Soul Stirring, and they did it again on Sunday.
Lemaire has won a Grade 1 race on three consecutive weekends, making him only the second rider in Japan Racing Association history to accomplish the feat, joining fellow Frenchman Olivier Peslier.
Rey de Oro, who is 4-for-5 for his career and collected a winner’s check of ¥200 million, was the 19th colt sent to the Derby by Fujisawa, who now has a record 26 G1 titles to his credit.
“Incredible,” Lemaire said. “I won the Derby in France and now I’ve won the Japanese Derby. I was close last year, but I was confident for today’s race. To be a Derby-winning jockey in another country feels terrific.”
Said Fujisawa, “It’s gratifying to think of all the people who were involved with this horse and supported us to get this far. I’m really, really happy.”
The race unfolded at an ultra-slow pace, with long-shot My Style ushering the pack through the first 1,000 meters in 63-plus seconds on firm going.
Recognizing the pedestrian pace, Lemaire made a superb call to push his mount toward the front on the backstretch. The positioning in the end was the difference between Rey de Oro and Admirable, who traveled close to the rear — Rey de Oro’s winning time was 3.7 seconds slower than the race record.
“I didn’t really have a plan, I thought I’d let the race come to us,” Lemaire said. “He doesn’t start well and we usually have to travel at the back — which is what happened today.
“But the pace was so slow I moved him up on the backstretch, and the horse settled once he was in second position. We turned for home in second and he quickened well once we were on the straight. I knew I’d won it with 100 meters to go and it felt great.”