Japan: Contrail is the unbeaten Triple Crown hero – but only just

Horse Racing Contrail and Aristoteles Kikuka Sho
Contrail (Yuichi Fukunaga, far side) just holds Aristoteles to complete Japanese Triple Crown in Kikuka Sho at Kyoto. Photo: Japan Racing Association

By Nicholas Godfrey

Kyoto: Kikuka Sho (Japanese St Leger) G1 ¥267m (£1.95m), 3,000 metres (1m7f), turf, 3yo

Japan: Guts got the glory for Contrail (Yoshito Yahagi/Yuichi Fukunaga), who was given a mighty scare on Sunday before becoming the first horse since Orfevre in 2011 to complete the Japanese Triple Crown on Sunday in the 81st running of Kikuka Sho (Japanese St Leger).

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Asked to stretch his stamina to 3,000 metres (1m7f) at Kyoto, the unbeaten colt was sent off at 1-10 against 17 rivals as he attempted to emulate his legendary sire, the great Deep Impact, in going through the Triple Crown sweep with an unbeaten career record. Symboli Rudolf (1984) is the only other horse to achieve the feat undefeated.

However, he was pushed all the way in a final-furlong duel by improving 23-1 shot Aristoteles before securing his place in the Japanese racing pantheon by a neck. Satono Flag stayed on for third place another  3½ lengths away.

For much of the race, there appeared little cause for concern as Contrail’s legion of supporters, although in hindsight he did travel a touch keenly in his bid to add the third leg of the Triple Crown to his victories in the Satsuki Sho (2,000 Guineas) and Tokyo Yushun (Derby).

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Jockey Yuichi Fukunaga held him on a tight rein in mid-division on the rail – significantly, as it turned out, with Aristoteles racing in tandem – before moving through the field with no semblance of effort on the run to the final turn. 

His every move, though, had been shadowed by champion jockey Christophe Lemaire, who had parked Aristoteles on his outside and delivered his effort in the straight alongside before battle commenced.

Contrail showed courage to match his undoubted talent in holding off Aristoteles, who was just unable to wear down his superstar rival, whose fans were able to breathe a sigh of relief as he took his winning streak to seven races.

“I can’t say that I was successful in keeping him relaxed during the race with so much pressure from Aristoteles,” admitted Fukunaga.

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“It turned out to be a tough race for us with Aristoteles looking quite strong and persistent, and this race may not have been his best performance, but I kept my faith in Contrail and he certainly showed how strong he is to have maintained his position up to the end of the 3,000-metre trip.”

Contrail duly enters the history books as the eighth Triple Crown winner in Japanese racing history after St Lite (1941), Shinzan (1964), Mr C.B. (1983), Symboli Rudolf (1984), Narita Brian (1994), Deep Impact (2005) and Orfevre (2011).

It isn’t only the Japanese racing community who will be hoping for a clash between Contrail and his female counterpart Daring Tact, who completed the fillies’ Triple Crown a week earlier. It could possibly happen in the Japan Cup on November 29 at Tokyo racecourse.

• Visit the Japan Racing Association website

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