where the horse is always the hero
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Posted 2009-06-28 12:52:51  
Takarazuka Kinen: Ikezoe cruises Dream Journey to 2nd Gr.1 title

 The smallest horse of the pack proved to have the biggest heart, as 5-year-old Dream Journey defeated a talented group of horses and colts in the 50th running of the Grade 1 Takarazuka Kinen on Sunday at Hanshin Racecourse.

Weighing in at 424 kilograms – the lightest of all 14 runners and almost 100 kg lighter than odds-on favorite Deep Sky – second-favorite Dream Journey came from behind and surpassed his rivals in the final stretch to claim his second Grade 1 victory. The son of Stay Gold ran the 2,200-meter firm turf in 2 minutes, 11.3 seconds for a convincing, 1 3/4-lengths victory ahead of third-favorite Sakura Mega Wonder. Once again, 4-year-old Deep Sky – at 1.6-1 odds – lacked one final punch, crossing the line a nose behind Sakura Mega Wonder for third and a half length ahead of 8-year-old Company.

2008 Japan Cup winner Screen Hero finished another half lengths behind for fifth, with fourth-favorite Al Nasrain crossing the wire softly for sixth place and Tenno Sho (Spring) winner Meiner Kitz following in at seventh.

It was a race in which the favorites ran to their potential, with the top seven finishers all in the top seven picks. Cosmo Bulk took the lead early, with Screen Hero, Admire Fuji and Company following. Sakura Mega Wonder and Deep Sky ran midfield, while Dream Journey ran outside of the pack watching his rivals make a rather quick pace.

Passing the first 1,000-meter mark in 59.0 seconds, Cosmo Bulk gradually lost ground as he turned into the third corner, with Inti Raimi following in solo second. As the horses made their moves into the final turn, the crowd erupted as Deep Sky mount Hirofumi Shii pushed his horse but got very little reaction. On the other hand, Kenichi Ikezoe, aboard Dream Journey, had his horse going strong and “knew my horse would catch everyone in front.”

As the top two picks turned the corner into the straight, it was clear Dream Journey had the upper edge. With Sakura Mega Wonder trying to finish ahead early, Dream Journey caught him on top of the slope and Ikezoe had the luxury of looking behind and kissing the crowd as he crossed the line. Apparently running out of gas in the final stretch, the best Deep Sky could do was get within a neck of Sakura Mega Wonder, when the two crossed the wire together.

After winning the 2006 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes (G1), Dream Journey had trouble controlling his temper during races, as his connections struggled to get the best out of him.

“(Dream Journey) won the big title as a two-year-old, and I knew how hard everyone at the stable had worked on him since to try and give him one more shot at a Grade 1 title,” Ikezoe said. “I want to thank everyone who supported me and the horse throughout.”

Said trainer Yasutoshi Ikee: “After winning the Grade 1 as a two-year-old, I kept saying that he was not maturing early and that he wasn’t done just yet. He will continue to grow. In the fall, we will aim for the Tenno Sho (Autumn) and hope to travel to Hong Kong at year’s end.”

Meanwhile, connections of Deep Sky, which had plans to run in the Arc with a successful outing at the Takarazuka Kinen, were left pondering what went wrong in the final stretch.

“He had very little left around the fourth corner,” said Deep Sky trainer Mitsugu Kon. “I’m not convinced one bit (with the performance).”

It was almost as if the day belonged to Ikezoe even before the main race. During a lunch-break event for the fans at the racecourse, all the jockeys running in the Takarazuka Kinen were introduced and some were asked of their chances in the big race.

Ikezoe had no fears hiding his emotions. “Deep Sky is a good horse, but the No.1 favorite does not always win. I think I have a legitimate shot,” he said, wooing the fans and sending a strong message to his rival horse’s jockey.

He may have sounded cocky, but Ikezoe followed up his words with action, proving he also had the largest heart of the 14 riders.

“I was thinking (after the lunch-time interview) that I may have been too blunt,” Ikezoe said with a smile after the race. “But right now, I’m just delighted with the win.”

Dream Journey, by Stay Gold out of Oriental Art, is trained by Yasutoshi Ikee and owned by Sunday Racing. In 21 starts, Dream Journey has notched eight wins, one second-place and three third-place finishes. With Sunday's win, he brought his earnings to over 559 million yen.

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