Godolphin’s 5-year-old, 2.8-1 favorite Fine Needle (JPN) closed powerfully in the last 100 yards under jockey Yuga Kawada to collar 3-year-old filly Love Kampf (JPN) at the wire to win Sunday’s six furlong, $2,169,091 Sprinters Stakes (G1) at Nakayama Racecourse by a neck, and earned an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint through the international Breeders’ Cup Challenge. (JRA video Sprinters Stakes)
The Breeders’ Cup Challenge is an international series of 85 stakes races whose winners receive automatic starting positions and fees paid into a corresponding race of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which will be held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky on Nov. 2-3.
As part of the benefits of the Challenge series, Breeders’ Cup will pay the entry fees for Fine Needle to start in the $1 million Turf Sprint, a Grade 1 race run at 5 ½ furlongs on turf, for three-3-year-olds and up, at Churchill Downs on Nov.3. Breeders’ Cup also is providing all starters based outside of North Americas with a $40,000 travel allowance to compete in the World Championships.
Fine Needle joins Disco Partner, who won the Jaipur Invitational (G2) at Belmont Park in June and Havana Grey (GB), who captured the Derrinstown Stud Flying Five (G1) earlier this month at Leopardstown as the other Turf Sprint “Win and You’re In” contenders.
Today’s 52nd Sprinters Stakes was run under rainy conditions with a huge typhoon closing in. Once in a Moon (JPN) gunned for the lead in the 16-horse field and set the pace. Fine Needle, trained by Yoshitada Takahashi, broke from post 8 and was settled in mid-field and three-wide. Shifting farther out in the last turn to avoid traffic, he unleashed his trademark turn of foot all the way to the wire while picking off his rivals one by one and finally catching Love Kampf in the final strides to win by a neck. Sent off at 31-1, Love Kampf broke sharply and chased the pace in second. Hitting the straight still in second and two-wide, she took over the lead from the pacesetter while shaking off second favorite Nac Venus (JPN) 100 meters out and dug in gamely but was pinned by the winner at the wire.
2018 Sprinter’s Stakes Replay
Rhein Spirit (JPN) saved ground in third to fourth, struggled for room behind the battling front runners in the stretch, but broke through chasing Love Kampf in the final 50 meters, stretching his neck in front of Daimei Princess (JPN) to grab third.
Fine Needle completed the six furlongs in 1:08.3 under a course listed as good.
Fine Needle, a bay son of Admire Moon (JPN), won his fourth group stakes race is five starts this year. On Sept. 6, he came back after a four-month layoff to score an impressive 1 ½-length victory over Love Kampf at Hanshin in the six-furlong Centaur Stakes (G2). He began 2018 by winning the six-furlong Silk Road Stakes (G3) at Kyoto by two lengths on Jan. 28, and returned in March to take the Group 1 Takamatsumomiya Kinen at Chukyo by a nose. His lone defeat this year was in Hong Kong in late April where he finished fourth, beaten four lengths in the Group 1 Chairman’s Prize at Sha Tin.
“I am relieved to have been able to come up with the best results as the race favorite,” said Takahashi. “I knew by the look of Fine Needle’s eyes at the saddling area that he had switched into racing mode. He was positioned exactly where I had imagined and I was a little concerned when the jockey was urging the horse on at the third corner, but the horse got into gear and then geared up again once entering the stretch so from there I was just hoping with all my heart that he would reach the leader in time.”
Said winning-jockey Kawada: “He wasn’t as sharp in the first half of the race and we had to race further out than we’d hoped, but despite the unideal trip, he really made up for it with his legs at the straight and we just managed to clinch our victory at the wire. He sure validated his win in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen with this JRA-sprint-G1 double and two other grade-race victories which undoubtedly places him as the top sprinter in Japan.”