where the horse is always the hero
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Posted 2009-05-09 05:43:57  
Long-shot Meiner Kitz imperial in Tenno Sho (Spring)

A full field in the Tenno Sho (Spring) meant another wild finish as long-shot Meiner Kitz (pictured) took home the 139th running of the Emperor’s Cup on Sunday afternoon at Kyoto Racecourse.

The 6-year-old son of Chief Bearhart, ridden by Masami Matsuoka, shook off any nerves he may have had in his Grade 1 debut, holding off Al Nasrain at the wire by a neck to win in 3 minutes, 14.4 seconds over 3,200 meters on firm going – a full second off the race record set by retired legend Deep Impact in 2006.

Hirofumi Shii’s favorite Asakusa Kings came in ninth, and the second pick, last year’s Japan Cup winner Screen Hero with Norihiro Yokoyama up, was further down at 14th. Third choice Monte Kris S, ridden by six-time Tenno Sho (Spring) winner Yutaka Take, also disappointed, finishing 12th.

Following Al Nasrain to take third almost two lengths back was fifth favorite Dream Journey, who managed to come off the pace and finish a nose ahead of 10th pick Sunrise Max. The Katsumi Ando-ridden Jaguar Mail, who ran his first race since coming in third in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase in December, was fifth.

The Sakae Kunieda-trained Meiner Kitz went off as the 12th choice among 18, eyeing the first-place prize of 132 million yen. For a lap and a half around the oval in the ancient Japanese capital, Meiner Kitz hugged the railing the entire way after leaving from the No. 2 post, before Matsuoka unleashed him on the 400-meter final straight.

Tenno Sho (Spring)/Meiner Kitz

Fourth pick Al Nasrain, the runnerup of the 2007 Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger) with Masayoshi Ebina in the irons, had beaten Meiner Kitz in the 2,500-meter Nikkei Sho at Nakayama on March 28 and tried to duplicate the performance roaring up the stretch on the outside, but the 542-kilogram giant was forced to take a backseat this time.

The race got off to an unexpected start with T M Precure, the 6-year-old mare whose jockey Takuma Ogino said would set a fast pace to the race, conceding the lead to Hokuto Sultan, who was fourth in the Tenno Sho (Spring) last year, and 10-year-old Silk Famous.

Asakusa Kings and Screen Hero were in good position during the trip, but when the pack turned for home, they decelerated unlike Meiner Kitz and Al Nasrain, who jumped for the wire. Monte Kris S, who had won the Grade 3 3,400-meter Diamond Stakes in record time at Tokyo earlier this year, sat toward the back and virtually stayed there until the finish.

The gates were full in the spring rendition of the Tenno Sho for the first time since 2005, when 13th pick Suzuka Mambo came out of nowhere to take home the honors. The field was also full in 2003 and 2004, and both times, underdogs Hishi Miracle (seventh choice) and Ingrandire (10th choice) prevailed, respectively.

The 24-year-old Matsuoka is no stranger to staging upsets. He won his first Grade 1 title two years ago, leading Koiuta – also the 12th favorite, as fate would have it – to victory in the Victoria Mile at Tokyo. Until Sunday, Meiner Kitz had never won a graded race, period, let alone a Grade 1 race.

It was Matsuoka’s idea to enter Meiner Kitz in the race, and the jockey pleaded to the chiefs at Thoroughbred Club Ruffian to give the horse a shot.

“You have no idea how happy I am,” Matsuoka said. “I personally asked the owner to use the horse in this race, so I’m relieved we came away with a big result.

“He felt good from the moment he set foot on the course today. He’s a tough one to beat if he’s side by side with anybody. I didn’t do much today; credit the horse for running a big-time race.

“Now that we have this title, it gives us a lot of hope for the future races.”

Meiner Kitz, out of Takara Kanna, is now 6-for-29 and took his career earnings to more than 327 million yen. It was also the first Tenno Sho (Spring) win for Kunieda, who won the Arima Kinen (Grand Prix) two years ago with Matsurida Gogh.

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