Deep Impact Captures the Japan Cup
The first beer is at the convenience store next to the train station. Then there is another can at the bottle shop in front of the track. At the snack bar a few steps inside the gate is the third - a draft this time. Just in case, there's the flask in his inner jacket pocket.
As he sets down his cup on the counter, the Captain forms a grin. In the background, those very distinct trumpet notes have just started to filter above the milling crowd of bettors gathered around the paddock. It seems he has timed the start of the Japan Cup perfectly...
This time Deep Impact did not disappoint.
Jockey Yutaka Take rode the four-year-old colt to victory Sunday in the 26th running of the 553.5-million yen Japan Cup, fulfilling the lofty expectations of the thousands of fans who jammed into Tokyo Race Course.
In trademark fashion, Deep Impact, who was disqualified after testing positive for a banned substance following his third-place finish in Paris last month, lagged the field early on only to explode over the final furlong for a dazzling two-length victory over Dream Passport.
"When I asked him for the effort in the last 700 meters," said Take afterwards, "he responded well and gave that 'flying' charge. Then I knew I had won the race."
British entrant Ouija Board, one of two foreign horses, came in at a respectable third-place finish. Cosmo Bulk, the pace-setter from the starting pistol, arrived in fourth, and 3-year-old filly Fusaichi Pandora crossed the line in fifth.
With the victory, Deep Impact claimed his 11th win in 13 tries and his sixth Grade I title. Earlier this year, the Sunday Silence-sired colt captured Grade I crowns in the Takarazuka Kinen and the Tenno Sho Spring. The final race of his career will be in the Arima Kinen at Nakayama Race Course on December 24th .
"Since the Arc, we've been through a lot, and it was a testing time for us," said trainer Yasuo Ikee. "But seeing Deep Impact as his usual self gave me the energy to carry on, and I have learned that even if you are at your lowest things can turn up again."
At the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in October, a post-race test detected ipratropium, which is a prohibited drug that treats pulmonary problems. It is a substance that is not banned from horse racing in Japan.
The reigning Horse of the Year was the prohibitive favorite in the Arc but wound up in third. Initial money had him at 9-4 in Britain but heavy action from Japanese bettors in London and Paris squashed the odds down to far less than even money.
The way the race played out was not typical. Rather than lagging back, Deep Impact was close to the front at the start and took the lead at the top of the straight. Rail Link, who was sent out at odds of 24-1, surprisingly bolted past him at the furlong pole to take the race.
"Today was different," said Take, whose horse was sent off at slightly more than an even money favorite. "So much had happened. I wanted to see Deep Impact show what he could do."
It was indeed completely different.
In the paddock thirty minutes prior to the start on Sunday, Deep Impact was a picture of calm as he circled the oval at the lead of its handlers.
Freedonia, the second foreign entrant, seemed agitated, continually snapping its head and nearly ramming into the concrete tunnel on the way to the course. The French filly finished seventh.
As the horses jostled their way into the starting gate, the crowd of 120,182 stood and chanted the favorite's name. The first floor of the grandstand had fans packed up against the rail. A handful of true enthusiasts were seen lining up from around 5 p.m. the night before - just after the conclusion of the Japan Dirt Cup.
From the start, Take nestled Deep Impact into last position, but by the third corner he had slotted him into the middle of the pack.
"Slow as usual coming out of the starting stall," said the 20-year veteran jockey of the beginning of the 2,400-meter race, "he was positioned well back of the field but that didn't worry me. I was able to see the positions of the whole field in front of me and I was conscious of Ouija Board who traveled close before me."
At a press conference following workouts on Thursday, the Ouija Board team expressed concerns about rain making the track soggy. But the light rain that fell on Sunday morning did not dampen the solid turf - the main issue was Deep Impact.
"She exerted her best," said jockey Lanfranco "Frankie" Dettori of his charge Ouija Board, "but the long uphill stretch was a bit too tough for her. She seemed to tire in the last 100 meters. She is still the best mare in the world, and so the winner would naturally be the best horse in the world."
Deep Impact made his move at the 700-meter mark, squeezing past Ouija Board from the outside and bolting past Cosmo Bulk and Dream Passport.
From there, who the winner would be was not in doubt - Deep Impact cruised to victory in 2:25.10. Ouija Board made a late charge in the final stretch but could not overcome Melbourne Cup-winning jockey Yasunari Iwata and Dream Passport, who took second by a half length.
Heart's Cry, the only horse to have beaten Deep Impact, lumbered across the finish line tenth in the field of eleven.
Deep Impact, owned by Kaneko Makoto Holdings, will be retired to stud following his final race.
"Though I would love to ride him in many more starts," Take gushed, "the decision of his retirement is made and my job is to give my best ride in the Arima Kinen."