Preakness Stakes: France Go De Ina finishes 7th in Japan's second Preakness bid
On Saturday, May 15, the American-bred, Japan-based France Go de Ina, took on the Preakness Stakes, the classic second leg of America's Triple Crown and run over 1,900 meters of dirt at Pimlico Racecourse in Baltimore, Maryland.
It was only the second time for a Japan-based horse to do so, the first since Lani in 2016. France Go de Ina hails from the Ritto stable of the tirelessly globe-trotting Hideyuki Mori.
The 3-year-old colt by Will Take Charge looked to follow in the footsteps of Mori's previous top-level wins abroad -- Fujiyama Kenzan in the 1995 Hong Kong International Cup, Seeking the Pearl in France in the 1998 Prix Maurice de Gheest, and Agnes World in France in the 1999 Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp and in the UK in the 2000 July Cup.
Having returned to Japan after Dubai, France Go de Ina arrived in the U.S. on May 5, quarantined in Los Angeles and arrived at Pimlico on May 8.
On the morning of May 12, just 3 days before the race, connections had a scare when the chestnut colt's exercise rider Masaki Takano suddenly fell from the galloping horse toward the end of their 4-furlong breeze. Fortunately, both rider and horse were uninjured, and France Go de Ina finished his morning schooling with no signs of injury and no further mishap.
France Go de Ina was heading into the Preakness gate with only one graded-stakes start behind him, a bid in the Grade 2 UAE Derby in late March this year and was seen as a longshot. He had yet to win racing to the left and would be carrying 57 kg, the heaviest weight of his career by 2 kg.
France Go de Ina had three previous starts, all over dirt. He debuted at Tokyo over 1,300 meters with a slow start and a fourth-place finish, then picked up two wins, both at Hanshin Racecourse, both in conditions races over 9 furlongs.
In the UAE Derby, run over the Preakness distance of 1,900 meters and also to the left, the colt had broken awkwardly from the No. 10 gate and was bumped hard on his left side. He was slow to find his stride, but showed his strength in rallying to finish sixth out of 14 runners.
The field for the 146th running of the Preakness numbered 10 and included top-billed Medina Spirit, sent off at 2-1 and coming off a win of Kentucky Derby on May 1. Raceday was sunny. The track was fast, the Preakness post time was set for shortly before 7 p.m., and fans were capped at 10,000.
The start went as expected. Medina Spirit, with John Velazquez up, took the lead, with Kentucky Derby 6th-place finisher Midnight Bourbon pressing the pace in second under 3-1 odds. France Go de Ina, who had shot headstrong from the gate, was on their heels.
Out of the backstretch and just before the final turn, the chances for Japan were looking very good, but rounding the final turn France Go de Ina began to flag as the 11-1 Rombauer moved powerfully up on his outside.
The Bob Baffert-trained Medina Spirit, who had held the lead by no more than half a length until the turn for home, was fighting to hold off Midnight Bourbon, with Irad Ortiz Jr. up. And as they dueled, Rombauer, ridden by Frenchman Flavien Prat, loomed up on the outside, then overtook the leaders just before the eighth pole.
From there it was clear sailing, with Rombauer holding on for the win by 3 1/2 lengths ahead of runnerup Midnight Bourbon. His winning time was 1 minute 53.62 seconds.
Rombauer, by Twirling Candy out of the Cowboy Cal mare Cashmere had skipped the Kentucky Derby and had already won his ticket to the Preakness back in February with victory in the El Camino Real Derby. He is trained by the 50-year-old Mike McCarthy and owned by John and Diane Fradkin.
Midnight Bourbon, sired by Tiznow and trained by Steven Asmussen, was followed home by third-place finisher Medina Spirit 2 lengths later. France Go de Ina finished in 7th place, more than 17 lengths behind the winner
The expectations surrounding the Japanese raider had been low, with morning line odds at 20-1. Unlike Rombauer's upset victory, France Go de Ina's seventh-place finish did not surprise, though jockey Joel Rosario, who had ridden the colt in Dubai, said he had been optimistic early on. “He broke well and I thought he had a chance” said the 36-year-old native of the Dominican Republic.
“But vying with the others early on tired him. Still, in the end he rallied and gave me more. I think it was by no means a poor showing.” It was Rosario's seventh Preakness ride. He has yet to win the race.
Mori had also been buoyed by the smooth start. “He was better out of the gate than I had expected him to be, and early on he was able to get a good position. But, he did become keen under way in places and that was somewhat unfortunate,” the 62-year-old Mori said.
”Turning out of the backstretch he had a clear path and that's where the jockey decided to make his move. But, the pace picked up at that point. In the end it came down to him not having quite enough,” Mori said of his colt.
France Go de Ina was purchased at the 2019 Keeneland September Sale for $100,000. He races under the colors of Yuji Inaida.
Pimlico Racecourse is America's second-oldest racetrack and has hosted the Preakness since 1873. However, there are plans afoot to move the Preakness out of the city and possibly out of the state. France Go de Ina's 2021 bid, though not Japan's first and not a winning one, may very well still turn out to be a historical one.