Apapane, Saint Emilion take Yushun Himba in deadheat
The 71st running of the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) rewrote Japan racing history Sunday as race favorite Apapane and fifth choice Saint Emilion somehow managed despite the rain and soft track to end on a single beat in what was the first deadheat in a top-level JRA race ever.
The stretch battle was heated enough but the ensuing wait at the weighing-in room for the final decision had the combined connections of both horses in a sweat.
Masayoshi Ebina, riding Apapane back to dismount, pulled into the No. 2 slot but was directed by encouraging supporters to move to the winner’s spot to his left. He reluctantly pulled Apapane out and back into the No. 1 slot as Norihiro Yokoyama arrived aboard Saint Emilion. Yokoyama shrugged his uncertainty at where he belonged though he later said he had thought he had won since Ebina seemed fairly certain he had lost.
After what were surely the longest 10 minutes experienced to date by both jockeys, the decision was announced and Ebina and Yokoyama embraced in joy and relief. The two appeared for the cameras and post-race interview as they laughed and joked in a surreal scene that left all at a loss for questions. There was little to say other than “unbelievable!”
Rain from morning had turned the Tokyo Racecourse turf to slightly yielding by the 3:40 p.m., as heavy rain minutes before the start made visibility poor. Agnes Waltz took the lead two lengths ahead of Nimaru Otome and the two widened their lead down the backstretch to six, seven lengths ahead of the other 16 fillies of the Oaks field. Apapane and Saint Emilion held back some six horses off the rear until the final turn as both went wide into the stretch. With 200 meters to go, the two lined up with Nimaru Otome, which was forced to loosen her hold under the relentless dueling two, as both Apapane and Saint Emilion refused to relinquish their hold on the winner’s circle.
Eighth choice Agnes Waltz crossed the line in third place, two lengths off the winning pair, with 11th pick Animate Bio in fourth a length and a quarter later. Third choice Oken Sakura made the board in fifth place a neck behind Animate Bio. The winning time over the 2,400 meters of turf was 2:29.9 seconds.
Saint Emilion's connections
Apapane, by King Kamehameha out of the Salt Lake mare Salty Bid, was bred at Northern Farm and is owned by Kaneko Makoto Holdings Co., Ltd. The filly is trained by Sakae Kunieda, who notched his first win of the Oaks. It was the second win of the Oaks for jockey Ebina. Apapane, the only Grade 1 winner running in this year’s Oaks, captured her third Grade race win \after victory in both the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies and the Oka Sho.
Saint Emilion, by Zenno Rob Roy, out of the Last Tycoon mare Moteck, gave both trainer Masaaki Koga and rider Yokoyama their first wins of the coveted Oaks. Saint Emilion was bred at Shadai Farm and owned by Teruya Yoshida.
The prize money, a combined first-place prize of 97 million yen and a second-place pot of 39 million yen, was split between the two winners. Apapane, with 5 wins in 7 starts, has earnings totaling just short of 300 million yen. Saint Emilion has, with 4 wins in 5 starts, amassed just shy of 168 million yen.