It’s a long way off but recent Japan Cup winner Epiphaneia already looks a strong candidate for the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe in 2015. And were he to make history and become Japan’s first winner of the ‘Gaisenmon Sho’ as it is known to the Japanese, he would be keeping up the pioneering record, not just of his own family – but also his stable – overseas.
The most recently published edition of the World’s Best Racehorse Rankings, covering the period January 1st to November 9th 2014, maintained Japan’s impressive Dubai Duty Free winner Just A Way in pole position on a mark of 130, 4 lb clear of his nearest rivals who include Derby winner Australia and Britain’s top miler Kingman.
But it will be interesting to see if Just A Way is still in top spot when the next set of rankings are published on January 20th. On his latest start in the Japan Cup, Just A Way did not even look the best horse in his own nation, let alone the whole world. Epiphaneia shot four lengths clear of Just A Way in the straight at Tokyo under Christophe Soumillon to record his first victory since the Japanese St Leger, the Kikuka Sho, the previous autumn. Soumillon was taking over from Epiphaneia’s regular jockey Yuichi Fukunaga who had partnered Just A Way in Dubai and in the Arc and did so again in the Japan Cup.
Epiphaneia is by Symboli Kris S who was champion three-year-old in Japan and a dual winner of the Arima Kinen which is to be Epiphaneia’s next race at the end of December. Victory at Nakayama would surely encourage connections to think seriously about the Arc, if they are not doing so already. Epiphaneia’s dam is by Special Week who was beaten a nose in the Arima Kinen in the final start of a career which had brought him wins in the Japanese Derby – the Tokyo Yushun, and in the Japan Cup as a four-year-old.
Symboli Kris S and Special Week came along just before it became commonplace for top Japanese horses to travel abroad, and one of the first to do so with any success was Epiphaneia’s dam Cesario, trained, like him, by Katsuhiko Sumii. Like her son, Cesario was a classic winner at home, but not content with winning Japan’s Oaks, the Yushun Himba, she was then sent to contest the American version.
Ridden by a young Yuichi Fukunaga, Cesario cruised into the lead leaving the back straight at Hollywood Park and never looked in danger of defeat from then on, opening up a clear lead once in line for home and winning unchallenged by a long-looking four lengths from the Bobby Frankel-trained filly Melhor Ainda. Further back in the field came the Irish-trained fillies Luas Line, Sweet Firebird and Silk And Scarlet, trained by David Wachman, Dermot Weld and Aidan O’Brien respectively.
Cesario never raced again, retiring with a record of six wins from seven starts, her only defeat coming when beaten a head in the Oka Sho, the Japanese 1000 Guineas (also the only occasion she was not ridden by Fukunaga). But at Hollywood she had made history, becoming the first Japanese horse to win a Grade 1 race in the United States. Can her son follow suit and become Japan’s longed-for first Arc winner?
The already successful association with Christophe Soumillon is certainly an interesting move, though the jockey’s availability cannot be guaranteed next October. But Epiphaneia is definitely in the right stable for such an exploit as Cesario’s win in America is far from being the only major international success on Sumii’s cv. He also trained Japan’s one-two in the 2006 Melbourne Cup, Delta Blues and Pop Rock, while he was also responsible for Victoire Pisa, Japan’s first winner of the Dubai World Cup in 2011 after many years of trying. Victoire Pisa had finished seventh in the Arc the year before and ended his three-year-old season by winning the Arima Kinen.
Going back another generation to Epiphaneia’s grandam, she too proved successful on two continents. Kirov Premiere, a daughter of Sadler’s Wells, began her career with Jim Bolger in Ireland, winning four times, but gained her biggest win on her US debut when landing the Grade 3 Rutgers Breeders’ Cup Handicap at Meadowlands over eleven furlongs. Kirov Premiere, incidentally, was out of the Irish-bred Habitat mare Querida (not her British-bred namesake by Rainbow Quest, as she appears on the Racing Post’s database), Querida being a granddaughter of the 1967 Oaks winner Pia.
Link to Cesario winning the American Oaks (Cesario is no. 13, the last to be loaded, breaking from the outside stall):
Link to Epiphaneia winning the Japan Cup:
[Image of Epiphaneia courtesy of Ogiyoshisan]