The 138th Tenno Sho was being hyped as a race that could go down in the history of Japanese thoroughbred racing, and it certainly didn't disappoint.
Vodka became the new champion of the Tenno Sho (Autumn) on Sunday afternoon, edging archrival Daiwa Scarlet after a photo finish in what turned out to be one of the best races of all time.
The difference between Vodka and Daiwa Scarlet - all of two centimeters.
The crowd of 121,961 at Tokyo Racecourse held its breath for nearly 20 minutes before erupting to the announcement that Vodka, who became the first filly to win the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) last year in more than six decades, had finished ahead of fellow 4-year-old Daiwa Scarlet by a nose in a record time of 1 minute, 57.2 seconds over the 2,000 meters.
Replays of the race were aired over and over, but the finish was too close to tell by naked eye even on the gigantic high definition screen at the Tokyo track. In fact, it was so close that Vodka's trainer Katsuhiko Sumii thought he had once again been upstaged by Daiwa Scarlet, who is trained by his mentor Kunihide Matsuda.
"I thought we'd lost. This is unbelievable," said Sumii, whose filly added the Tenno Sho (Autumn) to her Japanese Derby and Yasuda Kinen titles - all won at Tokyo Racecourse, where Vodka's next race, the Japan Cup (Grade 1) later this month, will be held. It was the first Tenno Sho (Autumn) victory for the trainer.
"It's gratifying. We've been losing to (Daiwa Scarlet), and I thought if we lost here again there would just be no end to it," said Sumii. Daiwa Scarlet had finished in front of Vodka in three of four head-to-head matchups.
The victory was jockey Yutaka Take's 11th in the Tenno Sho, the spring and autumn versions combined. There isn't much the veteran superstar hasn't experienced over his stellar career, but Sunday's win was one of them.
"I'm just relieved," Take said during the post-race press conference. "I really didn't know who had won. It was much too close to tell, and no one else seemed to know, either.
"She was a bit worked up in the paddock, but once she set foot on the course, she was superb. It's the best she's ever been in.
"It's difficult to get good position when you're leaving from an outside barrier in the 2,000 meters here. The pace was fast, but for most part, she ran at her rhythm and felt great heading for home. It was just a matter of when I flicked the switch on."
The top three picks finished in order. After the two fillies, who received a two-kilogram handicap over a field of 17, this year's Japanese Derby winner Deep Sky took third a neck behind Daiwa Scarlet. Eleventh choice Company turned it on late to finish fourth and Air Shady filled out the board. Another photo finish was needed to separate Deep Sky and Company.
Daiwa Scarlet, ridden by Katsumi Ando, set a pace of 58.7 seconds through the first 1,000 meters. Vodka's new record was eight-tenths of a second faster than the previous record set by Special Week in 1999.
Vodka, by Tanino Gimlet out of Tanino Sister, was bred by owner Yuzo Tanimizu at his Country Bokujo. With the Tenno Sho (Autumn) victory, she has won seven of 16 starts, earning more than 758 million yen.
© Japan Association for International Racing and Stud Book (JAIRS). All Rights Reserved.