The first Japanese Derby of the Reiwa Era turned out to be a surprising one, even for the winning jockey.

Roger Barows, the 12th favorite, came from behind in the final 500 meters to win the Japanese Derby on Sunday, clocking 2 minutes and 22.6 seconds on the 2,400-meter turf course.

“Probably I’m surprised most by the result. I can’t believe it,” jockey Suguru Hamanaka, a 13-year veteran, said after winning his first Derby in his sixth try. “(We) started from the No. 1 gate and made a quick start. It was our game plan and we were able to control the race as planned.”

Before a crowd of more than 110,000 at Tokyo Racecourse, Lion Lion set the pace from the beginning of the race and led until the final corner. Then Roger Barows, which stayed in the second position during the race, accelerated to go past Lion Lion before beating out Danon Kingly by a neck.

Heavy favorite Saturnalia, ridden by Damian Lane, was fourth, dashing the Satsuki-sho winner’s hopes of becoming the first Triple Crown horse in eight years. Both Roger Barows and Saturalia are trained by Katsuhiko Sumii.

“I have mixed feelings right now,” said Sumii of his second Derby win and first in 12 years. “I’m happy to win, but also sorry for those who cheered for Saturnalia. Roger Barows struggled in the Spring Stakes two months ago, but improved recently. He was very calm today and showed he’s strong in the long distance races.”

“I was worried about the result in the Spring Stakes, but when I rode him in the paddock I knew he was very calm and healthy mentally,” Hamanaka said. “During the race, he kept his rhythm and had a good race.”

Hamanaka honored his grandfather Yukiteru, who passed away three years ago, for introducing him to horse racing as a child.

“Without him, I would not have liked horse racing or become a jockey,” Hamanaka said, holding back tears. “I could not show him my victory in the Derby, but I did make his dream come true today.”

Kikka-sho, the third race of the triple crown, is scheduled for October.

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