Sheikh Mohammed attends racing at Tokyo Racecourse on Derby Day
On Sunday, May 29, for the first time in 28 years, the first time since the third running of the Japan Cup in 1983, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, attended racing at Tokyo Racecourse.
Sheikh Mohammed, a major figure in international Thoroughbred racing and breeding, journeyed to Japan to watch his colt Debonair take on Japan's most prestigious race – Grade One The Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby).
Sheikh Mohammed is one of five persons residing outside Japan whom have been registered as owner by the Japan Racing Association. In addition to the Sheikh are, H. R. H. Princess Haya bint Al Hussein, H. H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohd Al Maktoum, Mr. Masatsugu Otani and Dr. K. C. Tan. The JRA ownership was effective in late November 2009 and only 18 months hence, Debonair, one of 19 horses owned in Japan by Sheikh Mohammed, had reached the pinnacle of the classic races.
For Sheikh Mohammed, it was all the reason he needed to come to Japan. "I have a horse running in the Derby and therefore I had an excuse to come here," he had said with a chuckle before the race. "I always enjoy racing and to have a runner in Japan is a great thing," he said with heartfelt sincerity. "We are worldwide, with horses everywhere, and it's a great pleasure for me to have a runner in Japan and to come here."
The respect Dubai's ruler holds for Japan had grown tremendously just two months previous, when only two weeks following Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami, Japan's Victoire Pisa and Transcend finished one two in the world's richest race, the Dubai World Cup, run at the state-of-the-art Meydan Racecourse. Though the Sheikh's own runner was beaten by the Japanese, he had openly expressed his delight at the Japanese victory, its first in the World Cup ever.
At Tokyo Racecourse on Sunday, Sheikh Mohammed again expressed his feelings and the feelings of nation's people hold for Japan and Japanese horsemen. "We admire the Japanese nation because after the crisis, it rose to the challenge. We really look up to it. To bring the horses (to Dubai) after the crisis made all the people in Dubai want the Japanese to win the race. We even said that on television before the race. Despite the crisis, they had the courage to still come. We knew that it is a great nation, one that rises to a challenge."
Sheikh Mohammed's Derby runner, Debonair, by Agnes Tachyon, out of the Singspiel mare Velvet Queen, was bred in Hokkaido by Darley Japan Farm, the sheikh's breeding and training operation in Japan. "I' think they've done a very good job," he said before the race. "And with the local people also, on whom we've relied very much. We're satisfied and I'm very, very happy."
In the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas), Debonair went to the gate with only one win in six races. He had, however, shown considerable consistency, making the money, including a third in the Yayoi Sho(Gr 2), in all but one of those races. The race 14th pick in the Satsuki Sho, Debonair surprised with a strong fourth-place finish and earned a start in the Japanese Derby. That result, along with the big colt's huge stride, connections indicated he was perfect for Tokyo Racecourse, with its sweeping turns and long homestretch.
On Derby Day, Debonair, tipping the scales at 530 kg as the lineup's second-biggest colt, went to the gate as the race third favorite, with optimistic racing fans rising to the festive atmosphere of the race's 78th running and the presence of not only Sheikh Mohammed, but also of world renowed Lanfranco Dettori aboard.
The weather for Derby Day, however, was anything but festive. An approaching typhoon had brought near continuous rainfall to eastern Japan from Thursday evening and the track was reduced to soft. Sheikh Mohammed, however, stood in the rain before the Derby as he joined connections in the pre-parade ring. Hatless, and without umbrella, Dubai's ruler saw his colt off to the Derby gate for what would be Debonair's first race over soft ground, his first over any going other than good.
Unfortunately, Debonair, perhaps unable to handle the going, was to finish in 12th place in a highly competitive field that saw race favorite and Satsuki Sho winner Orfevre claiming his second jewel in the Triple Crown.
Upon his arrival to Tokyo Racecourse, Sheikh Mohammed had philosophically expressed his expectations for his colt, saying, "I'm a horseman and I know races, so I'm happy now before the race. After the race, the result will be known by everybody. But, that's the dream of racing. This year, next year, or the year after. You always have a dream. That's how we look at it."
And, without a doubt, Japan respectfully looks forward to future visits by Sheikh Mohammed and equal reciprocal delight in what, one day, will surely be his first victory in the Japanese Derby.