What would've been Vodka's first victory since the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) was swept away by Asian Winds.
The 4-year-old fifth favorite held off a late rush by top pick Vodka to win the third running of the Victoria Mile by three-quarters of a length on firm going on Sunday afternoon at Tokyo Racecourse, cashing in 90 million yen as the new champion. Asian Winds' winning time was 1 minute, 33.7 seconds.
It was the first Victoria Mile title for both trainer Hideaki Fujiwara and jockey Shinji Fujita, who won his first race at the highest level in nearly three years-since the 2005 Yasuda Kinen, which he captured aboard Asakusa Den'en.
Contrary to wide expectations, Asian Winds did not try to set the pace. The early leader turned out to be Pink Cameo, last year's NHK Mile Cup winner who usually prefers to come from behind.
"I know everyone was saying we were going to grab the lead no matter what," Fujita said. "But that's the one thing I didn't want to do. It's too tough to run away with it in the 1,600 meters at Tokyo. And looking out for the future, I also wanted to teach her how to run inside the pack."
Asian Winds had primarily raced on dirt until late last year, when she took to the turf for the first time in November. She also had never competed in a race longer than 1,400 meters, but still handled the 525-meter Tokyo straight beautifully. Once Fujita gave Asian Winds the green light along the slope, she never looked back.
"She was great down the stretch," Fujita said of his mount. "I was looking for any window of opportunity. The pace was slow, but she managed to stay patient. It was my first race with her, but she's easy to ride. I think she'll only get stronger from here."
Trailing Vodka by a nose was fourth favorite Blumenblatt, who did well to hang on to third place. Long-shot Yamaninmerveilleux and second pick Nishino Manamusume came in a distant fourth and fifth, respectively.
Third choice Bella Rheia, racing for the first time in seven months, still had some rust to shake off as the closer finished seventh in a full field of 18.
Blumenblatt, Hiroki Goto up, ran a tough race, stalking Pink Cameo and the leaders during the trip until the jockey released her on the home stretch, surging in front along the inside. But Bluemenblatt's lead turned out to be brief as Asian Winds came flying past her on the outside, with Vodka even further out.
Vodka was the prohibitive favorite, and it was her first race back in Japan since taking fourth in the Dubai Duty Free in late March. She weighed in 16 kilograms less than her last race in Japan in February, the 2,200-meter Kyoto Kinen, and showed flashes of her explosive form. Jockey Yutaka Take was left dazed and confused after a race which he feels Vodka should have won.
"She was good in her workouts so I really don't know what went on, especially in this company," Take told reporters. "Maybe she's not all the way back yet. It's disappointing. That's all there is to say."
"We knew all long that we only had two weeks to get her ready. That can't be used as an excuse," trainer Katsuhiko Sumii said. "I don't think it was her conditioning. We just have to start from scratch again."
Asian Winds, by Fuji Kiseki out of Sakurasaku, has six wins in 11 career starts. With Sunday's victory, her earnings exceeded 213 million yen. In six races on turf, Asian Winds has yet to finish below second.
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