Katsuhiko Sumii's Vodka piped red-hot favorite Aston Machan at the wire to take the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies on Sunday afternoon, surging to the top of the 2-year-old generation.
Vodka, trained by Melbourne Cup winner Sumii, nosed out the Yutaka Take-ridden Aston Machan for the 1 minute, 33.1 second victory over a mile at the newly laid out Hanshin Racecourse.
Jockey Hirofumi Shii guided the fourth favorite to her first graded win in three starts at the renovated track, which now features the third longest straight in the country after Niigata and Tokyo.
The first leg of the filly's triple crown, the Oka Sho, is run under the same conditions as the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies, and Vodka now will undoubtedly be one of the top picks come the spring.
"We drew an inside barrier so I wanted to make sure got off to a good start, then bring her outside," said the 34-year-old Shii, who won the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies for his second time.
He last captured the race three years ago aboard Yamanin Sucre, who was retired last month due to a career-ending injury she suffered in the Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup.
Shii said the plan during the race was to mark Aston Machan, who won last month's 1,400-meter Fantasy Stakes by five lengths in record time to emerge as the punters' number one choice.
"(Aston Machan) was in front throughout the trip, and made a good target for us. (Vodka) did well to beat her in the end," said Shii, who collected his eighth Grade 1 medallion.
"It's a very fair track, and we have big expectations for her. I just hope they don't switch the jockey."
Luminous Harbor led the full field of 18 off the blocks, with Mejiro Adhara stalking Futoshi Komaki's mount. Aston Machan was third in line as the pack rolled around the new, gentler turns.
Take steered his horse toward the inside as the fillies hit the stretch, Vodka closing in from the outside. Aston Machan jumped out to the lead halfway through the 474-meter strip, and Vodka made it a match race by moving to her side.
Vodka came out on top in the end, with Luminous Harbor trailing three and a half lengths behind. Robe Decollete and Excuse came in fourth and fifth, respectively.
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