By Nicholas Godfrey
Tokyo (Feb 21): February Stakes G1 ¥216m (£1.48m) 1m, dirt, 4yo+
Cafe Pharoah (Noriyuki Hori/Christophe Lemaire)
Triple Crown winner American Pharoah sired his first G1 winner on the Japan Racing Association circuit when Cafe Pharoah finally came good at the top level in the February Stakes under four-time JRA champion Christophe Lemaire.
The Frenchman, currently the world’s top-ranked rider on the Thoroughbred Racing Commentary’s global rankings, rode a four-timer on the 12-race card also including La Perouse’s impressive victory in the Hyacinth Stakes, one of Japan’s ‘Road to the Kentucky Derby’ contests.
The first JRA G1 of the year, the February Stakes is often the main Japanese prep race for the Dubai World Cup; the mile event is also part of the Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In’ Challenge offering a fees-paid berth in the Classic at Del Mar on November 6.
American Pharoah did have a prestigious G1 victory – such status not recognised internationally – on the lesser NAR circuit when his son Danon Pharoah took last year’s Japan Dirt Derby, where Cafe Pharoah was a beaten favourite in seventh.
Although Cafe Pharoah has produced many excellent performances at lower grade, he did only one place better in the Champions Cup (former Japan Cup Dirt) before getting the job done at last in Sunday’s race.
With cheekpieces added to his armoury, he was sent off 23-10 favourite before tracking the pace under a ground-saving ride and then angling three wide in the stretch. This proved to be the decisive move, as he got a small break on the field – enough to hold the late charge of outsider Air Spinel by three-quarters of a length. Final time for the 1,600 metres was 1m34.4s.
Christophe Lemaire: “His condition was super so I had confidence in him. We decided to use cheek pieces hoping for a more aggressive performance. His start was good, we were positioned well and he responded beautifully. The colt has such high potential. I had no doubt that he could land a G1 win if he gave his best. I’m happy that it all worked out today.”
La Perouse on Japan ‘Road to the Kentucky Derby’
Tokyo (Feb 21): Hyacinth Stakes (Listed) ¥36.6m (£248,000) 1m, dirt, 3yo
La Perouse (Kazuo Fujisawa/Christophe Lemaire)
After missing the kick, Lemaire bided his time on second favourite La Perouse before a powerful finish on the inside rail to beat Probatio by a length and a half. This Listed race is part of the ‘Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby’ and the winner is Triple Crown-nominated; the son of Pelusa recorded a time of 1m36.8s for the 1,600 metres, running the last 400m in 23s.