Shonan Pandora puts lid on Japan Cup
Fourth pick Shonan Pandora beat the boys and the foreign raiders Sunday at Tokyo Racecourse before nearly 103,000 fans with an upset win of the Japan Cup in association with Longines that landed her the 300- million-yen booty and her second career G1.
Overwhelming favorite Lovely Day hit the top just past the 300-meter mark, but Shonan Pandora was gaining steadily on his outside. After close sparring in the final strides with darkhorse Last Impact and Lovely Day, the 4-year-old daughter of Deep Impact came out on top by a neck. Last Impact gave his all under Ryan Moore and secured second, with Lovely Day following him over the line in third place a neck later.
Longshot Jungle Cruise finished in fourth, with Sounds of Earth in fifth. Best of the four horses from overseas was the French colt Erupt, who finished in sixth place under Stephane Pasquier. Germany’s Nightflower was 11th, Edward Dunlop’s Trip to Paris 14th and Germany’s other runner Ito ran last. Race second pick Gold Ship failed to kick in the stretch and disappointed in 10th place.
Last out in the Tenno Sho (Autumn), Shonan Pandora had run fourth to winner Lovely Day, but the extra furlong of the Japan Cup was what Pandora needed to clinch her second G1 following the 2014 Shuka Sho and revenge her loss of the Tenno Sho.
It was a dream come true for owner Tetsuhide Kunimoto, who could barely contain himself as his filly pulled into the winner’s spot before the weight room. As Kenichi Ikezoe held his arms high and leapt from the horse’s back, Kunimoto raised his arms and screamed “Fantastic!” He bear-hugged Ikezoe and slapped him on his back yelling, “Thank you!” in English.
Trainer Tomokazu Takano had been in a similar state watching Shonan Pandora in the stretch. In the post-race press conference, Takano said, “To sum it up, I am in seventh heaven.”
Takano assured the media he was normally a lot less emotional. “For most races, even a G1, I am quite cool. But today, at the 200-meter mark, I was pretty excited. I was screaming actually. My hands and legs were shaking.”
Takano said he had high hopes for his filly all along and especially from shortly after the Tenno Sho. “She was in good shape for the Tenno Sho and we hoped to keep her at that same level. We figured she’d still be competitive. But in training she was looking much better than we’d expected.
“Today, when I saw her in the saddling enclosure, I thought she could just win it.”
Takano said her dash from the gate had never been the best but today she broke nicely from the No. 15 gate, the same number she’d had in the Tenno Sho.
“She made the turns nicely and looked good in the backstretch and I was relieved,” Takano said. “To tell the truth I wasn’t really looking at any other horses but I did notice Lovely Day make his move and I knew it would be close.” At one point Takano saw things were tight. Her path “got a bit narrow and I was praying she’d get a clear run,” the Ritto-based Takano said.
“She’s a strong filly, more like a colt, and she proved herself in the Shuka Sho up against other fillies of her age, but I wanted her to get some tangible proof of just how strong I always believed her to be.”
“Today,” Takano said, “I feel like I’ve fulfilled that responsibility.”
Jockey Ikezoe had similar feelings of obligation to the filly. “For the Tenno Sho, she had been in good shape but, with the outside draw, we couldn’t get a good position. I felt that God was testing me, giving me this chance to make good on things. Today, even though we had the same gate as last time, I decided not to wait as much before making my move. I rode more aggressively.”
Ikezoe held Shonan Pandora just rear of midfield until the final turn. “She was nicely in hand and feeling very supple and very light-footed. She gets that from her sire. When Gold Ship made his move on the far outside everyone tried to make theirs too and there was a lot of bumping around. She got bumped too but it didn’t bother her. She squeezed through,” Ikezoe said of Shonan Pandora.
“It’s been a while since I’ve won a G1,” the rider of Triple Crown champion Orfevre said. “Today, I really seriously rode to win. And, since I won, I think God would now approve.”
Lovely Day, who went to the gate with rock-bottom odds, had been partnered with Yuga Kawada. Kawada said,” Everything went smoothly until the turn home. Then a horse moved out on our outside and we were blocked.” Kawada felt the Tenno Sho distance of 2,000 meters was Lovely Day’s best. “This trip, of 2,400 meters, is not his best and I think that made the difference in the end.”
Shonan Pandora’s winning time over the 2,400 meters of fast turf was 2 minutes 24.7 seconds. The Shadai-bred filly improved her record to five wins in 16 starts and gave both trainer and jockey their first wins of the Japan Cup.