2024 News

April 2, 2024


Dubai World Cup Day: Forever Young hands Japan sole win at Dubai; team of 22 proves a formidable force
UAE Derby 1

UAE Derby 2

UAE Derby 3

Christophe Lemaire sidelined by fall, escapes serious injury

Held traditionally on the last Saturday of March, this year saw the 28th running of the Grade 1 Dubai World Cup scheduled for March 30. The $12-million headliner, a 2,000-meter event currently held on dirt, tops a gala day of eight graded international events open to Thoroughbreds, including five top-level competitions. First place in the World Cup is worth $6.96 million (upwards of 10 billion yen).

Japan’s horsemen have sent participants to the brainchild of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum from the very beginning in 1996. Its sole participant, the G2 winner Lively Mount finished in sixth place in the inaugural race, held at Nad Al Sheba Racecourse and claimed by America’s legendary Cigar.

Moved to the new Meydan Racecourse in 2009, the races have attracted an ever-bigger team from Japan, including last year’s massive onslaught by 26 horses. The country enjoyed its most trips to the winner’s circle, however, in 2022, with a jaw-dropping five victories and four more runners figuring in the top three.

This year, a total of 22 horses from Japan participated in seven events, but victory eluded in all but one. Nonetheless, Japan’s haul was prominent, with six finishers in the money in four other races, a total of 13 making the board overall.

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The first two international events with Japanese horses participating saw poor results for all three. In the day’s third race, the Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup, Iron Barows and Libyan Glass finished eighth and 11th, respectively, amid a field of 15. Jasper Krone took on the day’s fourth race and first Grade 1 Thoroughbred event, the Al Quoz Sprint, but the Hideyuki Mori-trained the 5-year-old finished 11th of 12 under Taisei Danno.

The first and only win for Japan was just around the corner, however, in the day’s fifth race. And with it, new horizons opened up for its winner. Forever Young took on the $1-million UAE Derby, a G2 dirt event for 3-year-olds over 1,900 meters. A bit slow away and racing without cover for most of the two-turn race, Forever Young managed to top the field of 11 in a time of 1 minute 57.89 seconds over fast going. It was the colt’s fifth-straight win from his debut. A son of Real Steel, Forever Young had only won back home at the graded level on the local NAR circuit, but had claimed the Grade 3 Saudi Derby (1,600 meters, dirt) at Riyadh on Feb. 24. The 100 qualifying points gained with the Dubai win for the Kentucky Derby landed him one of the 20 berths in the iconic American classic.

 Jockey Ryusei Sakai, stable rider to Yoshito Yahagi, said. “The horse’s condition was much better than it had been for his last race. Having more distance this time made it easier to get into position. I had faith in this horse and I think the win was the result of having ridden him with confidence.”

“With this victory, he will be able to go to the Kentucky Derby with head held high and we’ll prepare for that as the champion he is,” said Sakai with exuberance and conviction.

For trainer Yoshito Yahagi, the victory had a very special meaning. “On a personal note,” the 63-year-old Yahagi said, “my father, who was also my mentor, passed away this morning. It is good to have won and to be able to give him this report.”

Despite Forever Young’s recent win at King Abdulaziz Racetrack, Yahagi revealed that the colt had been less than his best due to the trip from Japan. “But, in the time between Riyadh and here, he was able to make a good recovery. His overall strength was good, so I sent him into the race with confidence.”

The win at Dubai also opened up new possibilities for Forever Young, namely a bid in the Kentucky Derby. “We’ll have the trip to the United States and it will be hard to get him conditioned properly, but I do think my team will be able to do it. I want to have him in tiptop shape for the Kentucky Derby.”

Two other Japan runners participated in the UAE Derby. The better result of the two was claimed by Ballon d’Or, a colt from the stable of former jockey Mikio Matsunaga. Ridden by Norihiro Yokoyama, the New Year’s Day one-win-class race winning colt managed a sixth place in the Dubai Grade 2. Also running was George Tesoro, who like Ballon d’Or, had only won at the one-win class race. Trained by the Miho-based Takayuki Kato, and a son of Best Warrior, George Tesoro finished 10th under Yuga Kawada amid the race’s 11 runners. “It was his first trip overseas,” said Kawada of the colt who, normally raced in sprints, was coming off a second in an open-class over 7 furlongs on March 10. “He headed into this race with only a short time between races and I did feel that (1,900 meters) was a bit long for him. He did try hard until the end, but he was pretty well used up heading in to the straight.”

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Next up was the Dubai Golden Shaheen, the first of four races available for wagering by racing fans in Japan. A 6-furlong sprint, the Golden Shaheen carried a purse of $2 million. Four runners from Japan took on the event, with Don Frankie, under Cristian Demuro topping the four with a second-place finish amid a field of 14. Remake and Igniter finished in fourth and fifth place, respectively. Keiai Dorie crossed the line in ninth place. The locally trained Tuz, a 7-year-old gelding trained by the locally based Bhupat Seemar, won the race under Tadhg O’Shea, a pairing that was to also prove auspicious later in the day. The winner clocked 1 minute 10.19 seconds.

Don Frankie, a Daiwa Major 5-year-old had last scored a ninth in the Grade 1 February Stakes on Feb. 18 and scored a JRA G3 by landing the Procyon Stakes last summer.

“He really ran well,” said Demuro of Don Frankie. “He really gave it his all but the winner was very strong.”

Trainer Takashi Saito said, “He was able to secure a forward position and run his own race. Rounding out of the final turn, he put distance between him and the others and I thought he just might make it, but the winner went up the inside and I think he was the stronger. But, seeing that this horse has able to take the lead amid this kind of competition has opened up a lot more opportunities for him in the future.”

Following Don Frankie over the line under Yuga Kawada was Remake in fourth place. Remake has won in three countries and was fifth here last year after a third in the G3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint. This year, Remake was coming off a win of the same race in Riyadh. “He raced in Saudi, then Dubai and he’s been overseas a long time,” said Kawada. “I think he really raced to his utmost and I hope he can take on this challenge again.”

“Others closed in on him at the break and he got pushed back, “said trainer Koichi Shintani. “Then in the straight, just where he was gaining some momentum, he got bumped. Racing overseas is tough and the start was everything.”

Jockey Tsubasa Sasagawa was unavailable for comment after he brought Igniter over the line in fifth place, a placing that carried a prize of $60,000 in the $2 million race. Sasagawa pleaded guilty to a charge of careless riding when he brought his mount out with about 250 meters left and caused a domino effect involving six other horses either having to move, be bumped or have their path tightened. Sasagawa received a 4-day penalty and was also hit with a fine for consecutive use of his whip.

Last of the four Japan-based challengers over the line was Keiai Dorie, who finished ninth under Christophe Lemaire in what would turn out to be Lemaire’s last finish of the day. The 7-year-old gelding broke from the No. 7 gate amid 14 runners but was unable to gain ground. “He was frightened and unable to make progress,” said trainer Akira Murayama. “He wasn’t able to draw on his ability at all.” Keiai Dorie had finished sixth in the Riyadh Dirt Sprint last month.

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Race No. 7, with a post time of just past 7 p.m. local time (5 hours behind Japan) was the $5 million 1,800-meter Dubai Turf, with four runners from Japan. From this race and for the next two as well, Japanese horses were to figure in the winning tickets. Namur scored a second under Cristian Demuro and Danon Beluga made third under Joao Moreira. Do Deuce had his name on the board with a fifth-place finish under Yutaka Take, while the last Japan runner only allowed one other runner in the field of 16 to follow him over the finish line under Norihiro Yokoyama. The win went to the France-based Facteur Cheval under Maxime Guyon.

2023 Mile Championship winner Namur, who was back on the track for her first time since her third in the Hong Kong Mile in early December, made a gallant effort despite being held up early on, but managed to make headway and launch a strong challenge with a furlong to go. “It was so frustrating!” exclaimed Demuro. “It was a great race, with an extremely fast pace. I thought she was going to win, but she needed just a little more.” Trainer Tomokazu Takano agreed. “She really gave it her all and ran her heart out.”

Danon Beluga was back after a longer spell, returning from her sixth in the Nov. 26 Japan Cup. “He wasn’t that fast away, so I ended up racing from further back of my ideal position,” said Moreira. “He traveled well and let go with a stupendous kick in the finish and if there had been 50 more meters in the race, it would have been very close.”

Do Deuce, returning from his win of the Grade 1 Arima Kinen (The Grand Prix) on Christmas Eve, revenged his having to be scratched before last year’s Dubai Turf and was able to finish, though not amid ideal conditions. “It’s a shame,” said rider Yutaka Take. “It was a very difficult race. He was slow away and found himself in a position that made headway difficult. He was in good shape, which makes it all the more unfortunate. It’s frustrating and I’d like to try again.”

Trainer Yasuo Tomomichi said, “His start was slower than usual and things got difficult in amid the traffic.” Traffic problems, including an accident in the stretch, were a big impediment from about 400 meters out to the final 100. “He wasn’t able to run at his own rhythm at the start and in the finish and even once into the stretch he wasn’t able to get a clear run and was never able to unleash all he had,” said Tomomichi.

Matenro Sky, another runner fielded by Mikio Matsunaga, finished in 15th place. Matsunaga said the 5-year-old gelding, just off a win of the 1,800-meter Grade 2 Nakayama Kinen on Feb. 25, had found the journey to Dubai challenging. “Shipping was very tough. But, I do think it was a good experience for him.”

Japan’s current leading jockey Christophe Lemaire was also riding in the race, though not on one of the runners from Japan. Lemaire was paired with the unfortunate American gelding Catnip. Deep into the stretch, Catnip, who had been battling bravely for the lead, broke down, dislodging Lemaire. Lemaire was placed on a stretched and carried off. He was found later to have escaped grave injury but did suffer a broken collarbone and fractured rib and will be sidelined for an indefinite time just as the racing season in Japan heats up. Catnip, sadly, had to be euthanized.

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Next up was the $6-million Sheema Classic, a turf G1 over 2,410 meters. Contested by a field of 12, Japan’s stellar quartet - Shahryar, Liberty Island, Justin Palace, and Stars on Earth -- was undoubtedly a factor in the race’s raking in the most revenue from the four races available to punters in Japan. The race was won last year by the incomparable Equinox, who holds the record of 2 minutes 25.65 seconds. This year the win went to the Charlie Appleby-trained Rebel’s Romance, now with an astounding 12 wins (including four Grade 1s) from his 18 starts.

Topping Japan’s runners was 2021 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) champion and last year’s Sheema Classic winner Shahryar, unable to make it two in a row and finishing 2 lengths behind the winner in second place. Cristian Demuro said, “I wanted to race from second or third position, but unfortunately wasn’t able to travel well in that position. He had the bit in his teeth at times but was able to keep abreast of the eventual winner, who was racing in second position. In the final staged he lugged out to the left, but he really made a brave run.”

Trainer Hideaki Fujiwara was very pleased with the effort. “It was a fantastic race and I really could feel how much this horse has grown.” Shahyrar has seen much of the world, having raced not only in Japan and Dubai, but at Ascot (fourth in the 2022 Prince of Wales Stakes) and Santa Anita (third in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf) as well.

The 4-year-old Liberty Island, filly triple crown champion last year and 2023 Japan Cup runnerup had never finished out of the top two in her seven starts previous to Dubai, her first trip overseas. Here too, despite the keen competition and ardors of travel, the daughter of Duramente did not disappoint and was able to fill out the winning trifecta.

Trainer Mitsumasa Nakauchida said, “She was in great shape and the strong pace of the race helped. I don’t know if it was because of the different grass here or what but she wasn’t able to show the blistering turn of foot that she displays in Japan.”

With incomparable Japanese modesty, Nakauchida apologized for a performance that would be considered by most to be at least “fair.” “It’s inexcusable that I wasn’t able to get the results for all those who have supported her up to now,” Nakauchida apologized. “But, I do think she will show everyone her best once again.”

Yuga Kawada, who has ridden all the filly’s starts, was more forgiving. “It was her first trip overseas and she responded well to give us a race that met expectations. Her racing alone was very good and though I would have liked her to move a little bit more in the stretch, I felt today that she had given it her everything today. This will be an excellent experience for her and I think it will stand her well in the future on even bigger stages.”

Justin Palace, last year’s Tenno Sho (Spring) winner, was returning from a fourth in the Arima Kinen. Fourth here again, the 5-year-old son of Deep Impact was piloted by Joao Moreira, who said, “Thanks to the gate boy, we got off to a really good start. And under way the horse displayed his fantastic stamina and ran all out. But, just when I went to ask for a change of gears, we were left behind.” Trainer Haruki Sugiyama praised the horse saying, “He was able to stay even-keeled despite the change in routine to racing in Japan and the different environment. The result was frustrating, but he did give it his all.”

The 5-year-old mare Stars on Earth, two-time G1 winner and runnerup in last year’s Arima Kinen, had yet to finish out of the top three in her 12 starts prior to the Sheema Classic. Unfortunately, the jockey change from Christophe Lemaire, who had ridden five of her races, to Lanfranco Dettori, was likely a factor in her finishing eighth. Dettori only commented that the mare had hung out to the right and that he had needed to adjust her racing under way. Trainer Mizuki Takayanagi said, “I do think she hung out in the stretch. She was in good shape, but she wasn’t able to show her best in the finish. She still has more racing in her future, so we’ll do our best next time out.”

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Wrapping up the day was the World Cup, with another four runners from Japan - Ushba Tesoro, Wilson Tesoro, Dura Erede and Derma Sotogake - who recorded results of 2-4-5-6. The win went to Laurel River, an American-bred 6-year-old trained (as in the Golden Shaheen) by Bhupat Seemar sand ridden by Tadhg O’Shea.

Ushba Tesoro, last year’s World Cup winner, was unable to make it a double, but crossing the line in second place with a record 8 1/2 lengths between him and the winner at least meant there was no room for frustration. It also, with second place worth a cool $2.4 million, moved him narrowly past Equinox for most earnings.

Trainer Noboru Takagi nonetheless did find second place disappointing. “He ran a strong race. It’s a shame he was second but the winner was strong.”

Jockey Yuga Kawada said of Ushba Tesoro, “He was in excellent condition and under way he was able to catch and beat Senor Buscador (third-place finisher), but there was too much room between this one and the eventual winner. Ushba Tesoro ran to his fullest capability and he was able to catch and pass the horse who had passed him in the Saudi Cup. To me that looks like he gave it his all.”

The Kitasan Black-sired Wilson Tesoro, eighth in this year’s February Stakes made fourth. Trainer Hitoshi Kotegawa expressed his frustration “Once you get a taste of something, it becomes frustrating not to have it. But I think since we’ve come this far, we still have a chance. I want to win a Grade 1 together with jockey Yusuke Hara.” Hara said, “The horse was in good shape and was able to respond as he did. We ended up getting a position quite toward the back and I do think he’d have done better if we’d been a bit more forward. I’ll do my best once back in Japan to produce some solid results.”

Dura Erede, third in last year’s Champions Stakes, crossed the line in fifth place. “We ran the race we wanted to,” said trainer Manabu Ikezoe. The horse on the outside moved early and won and I do think the kickback was a factor here. The jockey rode in such a way as to avoid it as much as possible, but it’s unfortunate. He wasn’t able to get the best out of the horse.” Jockey Bauyrzhan Murzabayev felt otherwise. “I think he did a very good job today racing on the inside.”

Wrapping up the Japanese World Cup hopefuls was Derma Sotogake, rising in class after a win of last year’s UAE Derby. He finished sixth under Oisin Murphy, who stood in when scheduled rider Christophe Lemaire was injured. Lemaire had ridden the horse’s last four races, at four different racetracks in three countries, and the change in riders was surely a factor in the result.

Trainer Hidetaka Otonashi saw problems from just before loading into the gate, where Derma Sotogake had to have his saddle tightened. Then, “He was unruly in the gate, which was definitely a minus. Last year he’d won (the UAE Derby) going wire to wire and I had wanted him to race from a forward position but the gate worked against him. And, heading out of the backstretch, I thought he already looked spent. I don’t know how he was feeling mentally. I do think he’ll still be racing next year, so I hope he can do well again.”

Oisin Murphy said he thought the horse had responded well but, “I would have liked to be more forward to avoid the kickback.” It being only a short time after the accident, when Lemaire’s condition was unknown, Murphy said, “I am grateful for the opportunity to ride and I pray that Christophe Lemaire is OK.”

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The Japan Racing Association enjoyed record sales on the four races held at Meydan Racecourse on Saturday and offered to betting fans this year. Sales topped 7.1 billion yen, which represented a staggering 1 billion yen more than the previous record set last year on the Dubai races. Of the four races offered - the Dubai Golden Shaheen, Dubai Turf, Dubai Sheema Classic and the Dubai World Cup - it was the Sheema Classic that enjoyed the most betting action, with a total just shy of 2.2 billion wagered. In comparison to Dubai’s popularity, the four Hong Kong races at Sha Tin offered at yearend last year brought a more modest amount, just shy of 4.9 billion yen. The previous record for betting revenue on a single overseas race was set on the 2022 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, which netted nearly 6.5 billion yen.

Comments: JRA, Emirates Racing


DUBAI WORLD CUP (G1, 2,000m Dirt, US$12 million, 20:35)

DUBAI SHEEMA CLASSIC (G1, 2,410m Turf, US$6 million, 20:00)

DUBAI TURF (G1, 1,800m Turf, US$5 million, 19:10)
- NAMUR 2nd
- DO DEUCE 5th

DUBAI GOLDEN SHAHEEN (G1, 1,200m Dirt, US$2 million, 18:25)
- REMAKE 4th

UAE DERBY (G2, 1,900m Dirt, US$1 million, 17:50)
Note: SATONO PHOENIX has been scratched from the race.

AL QUOZ SPRINT (G1, 1,200m Turf, US$1.5 million, 17:15)

DUBAI GOLD CUP (G2, 3,200m Turf, US$1 million, 16:40)

Click here for the official results

Please visit the following websites for more information.

Dubai Racing Club: https://www.dubairacingclub.com/
Emirates Racing Authority: https://emiratesracing.com/


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