Mozu Ascot Dominates Dirt G1 in February Stakes
Race favorite Mozu Ascot captured his second G1 victory in this year’s February Stakes and has become the fifth horse to claim G1 titles both on turf and dirt following Kurofune, Agnes Digital, Eagle Cafe and Admire Don. After his G1 triumph in the 2018 Yasuda Kinen (1,600m) and struggling with two G2 runner-up efforts after that, he immediately showed his talent on dirt by winning his first outing on the surface in the Negishi Stakes (G3, dirt, 1,400m) earlier this year. His connections have announced their intentions of racing the six-year-old chestnut in the Doncaster Mile (G1, 1,600m) in Australia on April 4th. With last year’s Arima Kinen victory (Lys Graciuex) and the Hopeful Stakes win (Contrail) that followed, Mozu Ascot’s trainer Yoshito Yahagi has now become the first trainer since Kunihide Matsuda in 2004 and second overall to capture three JRA-G1 titles consecutively. Jockey Christophe Lemaire has now 28 JRA-G1 wins—his latest was in last season’s Tenno Sho (Autumn) with Almond Eye.
The full gate of 16 opened with Wide Pharaoh and Arctos sprinting to the front to lead the field while Mozu Ascot was settled behind last year’s winner and second favorite, Inti in mid-division. After entering the straight in sixth to seventh, the race favorite came looming up from the inside, took over the lead from Time Flyer before the furlong marker and galloped strongly and unthreatened to the wire for a 2-1/2-length victory.
“He broke well and we were able to settle right behind Inti as planned. His acceleration was extraordinary. Although he is a newcomer in dirt racing, he adapted immediately to the surface and gave his best today. After a couple of seconds in the past, I myself, am happy to have won the February Stakes at last,” commented Christophe Lemaire.
Seven-year-old K T Brave broke well from a wide stall and sat a length or two behind the eventual winner in mid-pack. The longest shot on the board angled out sharply at early stretch and while displaying a tremendous burst of speed, tagged the tiring Time Flyer first before shaking off a stubborn Wonder Lider 50 meters out for second.Sunrise Nova traveled outside Wonder Lider two to three lengths behind K T Brave and was late in making his bid entering the lane second from last, but with the fastest last three-furlong speed, the third-pick showed a strong stretch charge pinning Wonder Lider at the wire for third.
THE 37TH FEBRUARY STAKES (G1)
FP: Final Position / BK: Bracket Number / PP: Post Position / S&A: Sex & Age / Wgt: Weight (kg) / DH: Dead Heat / L3F: Time of Last 3 Furlongs (600m)
Color: b.=bay / bl.=black / br.=brown / ch.=chestnut / d.b.=dark bay / d.ch.=dark chestnut / g.=gray / w.=white
Turnover for the Race alone: ¥ 13,781,346,400 Turnover for the Day: ¥ 23,151,641,300 Attendance: 50,985
PAY-OFF (for ¥100)
Winner: 21 starts, 7 wins, 5 seconds / Added money: ¥ 103,402,000 / Career earnings: ¥ 411,714,000
* February Stakes (G1)
Japanese horse racing, which is influenced by British racing, is held mainly on turf. However, dirt tracks that were popular in the U.S., quickly became widely used around the country since the Tokyo Racecourse implemented a new dirt track in 1960. While the mainstream of major JRA races remained over turf, the February Stakes (then called February Handicap), which was established in 1984 in conjunction with the new grading system, was one of just three graded dirt races at the time—the current number of graded dirt events is 15. The race was upgraded to G2 in 1994 and then to G1 in 1997, and stood as the highest-prized event until the Japan Cup Dirt (called the Champions Cup from 2014) took over in 2000. The race also joined the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series in 2016, enabling its winners to earn automatic starting position in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1, dirt, 2,000m).
Past winners include Wing Arrow (JPN, by Assatis; ’00), Agnes Digital (USA, by Crafty Prospector; ’02), Gold Allure (JPN, by Sunday Silence; ’03), Admire Don (JPN, by Timber Country; ’04), Kane Hekili (JPN, by Fuji Kiseki; ’06), Vermilion (JPN, by El Condor Pasa; ’08), Espoir City (JPN, by Gold Allure; ’10), Transcend (JPN, by Wild Rush; ’11), Copano Rickey (JPN, by Gold Allure; ’14&’15) and Gold Dream (JPN, by Gold Allure; ’17)—all ten are winners of multiple-G1 races as well as JRA Award winners.
Defending champion Inti came off a third in the one of main prep races, the Tokai Stakes (G2, dirt, 1,800m; Jan.26) where Vengeance finished a half-length ahead of Inti in second. 2018 Yasuda Kinen (G1, 1,600m) champion Mozu Ascot won his first career start on dirt in another prep, the Negishi Stakes (G3, dirt, 1,400m; Feb.2) in which Wide Pharaoh and Wonder Lider, who each have a graded title over the Tokyo dirt mile course, finished fifth and eighth, respectively. The field also included Sunrise Nova and Arctos, the top two finishers of the Mile Championship Nambu Hai (dirt, 1,600m) in that order, as well as three NAR (National Assocition of Racing; local public racing) runners—2018 February Stakes victor Nonkono Yume, Mogiana Flavor who came off a third in the Tokyo Daishoten (G1, dirt, 2,000m; Dec.29) and Mutually who was recently fourth in the Kawasaki Kinen (dirt, 2,100m; Jan.29).Moanin (USA, by Henny Hughes) renewed the race record to 1:34.0 in 2016.