Yuichi Fukunaga had absolute faith in Contrail’s ability to rise to the occasion before and during the 41st Japan Cup at Tokyo Racecourse.
Ultimately, the 2,400-meter test of speed and stamina came down to Contrail’s ability to find an extra gear as he sprinted toward the finish line without running out of energy.
It was a remarkable display of grace under pressure, the 3-year-old son of former unbeaten Japanese Triple Crown winner Deep Impact exerting maximum energy in a brilliant finish on Sunday, November 28.
Contrail’s two-lengthy victory over Authority, ridden by 2020 Japan Cup champion Christophe Lemaire (in Almond Eye’s final race), gave the 44-year-old Fukunaga his first win in the race and his 32nd Japan Racing Association Grade I victory. Trainer Yoshito Yahagi, who guided Loves Only You and Marche Lorraine to Breeders’ Cup wins earlier this month, earned his 14th G1 triumph, and first since Contrail wrapped up his perfect run to a Japanese Triple Crown in 2020’s Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger).
A year ago, Contrail was the runner-up behind Almond Eye, who also won it in 2018 in a race-record 2 minutes, 20.6 seconds.
This time, Fukunaga’s ride reached the finish line in 2:24.7 on a clear autumn afternoon. (Watch the race replay here.)
"I am so proud of how he proved himself today — I’m overwhelmed,” an emotional Fukunaga said candidly after the race.
“All I did today was believe in him. He broke well and everything went just perfectly. He has given me every jockey’s dream and I am utterly grateful. The colt shone a bright light over a gloomy year due to the pandemic last season. I’m relieved that we can send him off to his next career with this victory.”
As retirement begins for Contrail, his list of achievements includes five G1 wins and ¥1,195,294,000 JPY (more than $10.5 million USD) in career earnings, which places him 10th on the JRA’s all-time list.
Contrail rose to prominence with earlier Triple Crown victories in the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) and Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby), setting the stage for a headline-grabbing victory in the Kikuka Sho last year.
Breaking from the outside in the No. 2 post position in Sunday’s Japan Cup, Contrail faced a competitive field that included three other Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) champions at Tokyo Racecourse: Makahiki (2016), Wagnerian (2018) and Shahryar (May 30, 2021). Wagnerian and Shahryar’s past success here occurred with Fukunaga sitting in the saddle.
Foreign-born competitors in the 18-horse field included a pair from Ireland (Japan and Broome) and another from France (Grand Glory).
The favorite Contrail was near the middle of the pack for most of the race before making a strategic push toward the front.
Early leader Aristoteles (Takeshi Yokoyama) and late leader Kiseki (Ryuji Wada) faded from contention as other horses moved into striking distance of the front. Aristoteles placed ninth and Kiseki was 10th.
There was no stopping Contrail once his burst of speed propelled him to the front with about 200 meters remaining.
With a few hundred meters remaining, Contrail, Shahryar and Authority all appeared to have a shot at outsprinting the rest of the field to claim the marquee victory.
As Kiseki disappeared from the front, Contrail zoomed past Authority, and Shahryar was left to chase Authority.
The top three held those spots in that order for a couple seconds in an exciting closing sequence.
Shahryar, guided by Yuga Kawada, placed third, followed by Sanrei Pocket (Katsuma Sameshima), Grand Glory (Cristian Demuro) and Uberleben (Mirco Demuro, Cristian’s older brother).
Perspectives From the Racecourse
“I am very satisfied with her performance and her result at fifth place,” trainer Gianluca Bietolini said, assessing Grand Glory’s performance.
“She appeared to lose a bit of balance and lean to the inside but thankfully Cristian got her back on her feet by the stretch. She’s mentally very strong and the experience to run in the Japan Cup was fantastic for us. It’s a great race and we would love to come back with another horse.”
Four-time Japan Cup-winning jockey Yutaka Take and Japan finished eighth.
Broome’s trip from Ireland ended in disappointment with an 11th-place finish for Ryan Moore. Makahiki and Wagnerian were 14th and 18th, respectively.
With details of the race still fresh, Lemaire told reporters shortly thereafter that “the winning horse is insanely strong."
Winning trainer Yahagi shared the ultimate insider’s perspective after the race.
“I'm thrilled to be able to show the strength of this horse at the end,” Yahagi told reporters.
Looking back on the tenor of the Grade I race, Yahagi observed that “I think that it was the ultimate finish today [for Contrail] and the performance was exactly as it was. It was a fight against pressure.”
More than ¥648 million JPY (about $6.17 million USD) in Japan Cup prize money was distributed.
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Author: Ed Odeven