Vodka could not overcome Daiwa Scarlet once again.
The much hyped duel on Sunday afternoon between the Japanese Derby champion and the Oka Sho winner belonged to Daiwa Scarlet, who took the 2,000-meter Shuka Sho at Kyoto Racecourse by a convincing length and a quarter.
Daiwa Scarlet's winning time in the last leg of the filly's triple crown read 1 minute, 59.1 seconds. The second choice among the full field of 18 finished ahead of seventh favorite Rain Dance, who took the silver ahead of third-place Vodka.
Daiwa Scarlet's jockey Katsumi Ando was all smiles after the victory, which saw the Kunihide Matsuda-trained horse spurt through the last three furlongs in 33.9 seconds under the sun in the ancient Japanese capitol.
"She's something; she can run a 33 in the end at that kind of pace," said the 47-year-old Ando, who has won five of seven aboard Daiwa Scarlet with a pair of second-place finishes.
"There was quite a gap at the finish. She's got great footwork, and is just a fantastic horse," he said of the Agnes Tachyon filly.
Third pick Bella Rheia, ridden by Yutaka Take, and Love Caerna came in fourth and fifth, respectively, to fill out the board. Bella Rheia had been a narrow runner-up to Daiwa Scarlet in their tune-up, the Rose Stakes, last month but Take's closer was flung to the far outside at the mouth of the stretch, losing considerable momentum.
She ran a race best 32.9 seconds over the final 600 meters-three-tenths of a second faster than Vodka. Better positioning may have seen Bella Rheia take at least third place.
Vodka, the race favorite, was running in her first race since the Grade 1 Takarazuka Kinen back in June, the finale to the spring season. She took eighth in running against the older competition for her first time.
Her plan to race in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe earlier this month had been scrapped due to an injury, and the Shuka Sho had long been targeted as Vodka's first start of the autumn campaign.
Vodka came on strong down the straight, but Daiwa Scarlet had the race put away fairly early in a rematch of the Oka Sho duel in April at Hanshin Racecourse. Given her performance Sunday, Vodka could next run in either the 2,400-meter Japan Cup or the 2,200-meter Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup.
For most of the way, Ando's mount stalked pacesetter Hishi Aspen, who was coming off three straight wins but on dirt. Vodka was toward the back during the journey, and Bella Rheia even further behind.
Kenichi Ikezoe's Hishi Aspen gave way to Daiwa Scarlet ahead of the final bend, and Daiwa Scarlet, along the railing, never looked back. Hishi Aspen, fried by the pace which she set, hit the wire last in her first turf race since March 25.
"I was thinking of taking the lead, but I don't think (Hishi Aspen) had any intention of backing off," Ando reflected. "I usually leave it up to the horse, but I pulled her back this time.
"When Hishi Aspen ran out of gas, I decided to just let her go rather than save her any more."
Daiwa Scarlet's next start is undetermined--a mouth-watering sibling match-up against Daiwa Major could be in the cards somewhere--but Ando remains confident she will run well wherever she goes.
"If she can run at a pace she likes, she will always be there in the end," he said.
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