Kazumasa Yamada’s 6-year-old gelding Nonkono Yume (JPN) closed powerfully down the stretch to catch defending champion Gold Dream (JPN) to win Sunday’s one mile, US$1,964,000 February Stakes (G1) on dirt at Tokyo Racecourse by a neck and became the first horse this year to qualify for the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) through the international Breeders’ Cup Challenge.
The Breeders’ Cup Challenge is an international series of stakes races whose winners receive automatic starting positions and fees paid into a corresponding race in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which will be held this year at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, November 2-3.
As a part of the benefits of the Challenge series, the Breeders’ Cup will pay the pre-entry and entry fees for Nonkono Yume to start in the 1¼ mile, US$6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, and will also provide a US$40,000 travel allowance for all starters based outside of North America to compete in the World Championships.
Trained by Yukihiro Kato and ridden to victory by Hiroyuki Uchida, Nonkono Yume, a 6-year-old chestnut gelding by Twining out of the Agnes Tachyon (JPN) mare Nonko (JPN), won his eighth race in 21 career starts. He finished second in the 2016 February Stakes, and was seventh in last year’s race. As a 3-year-old, Nonkono Yume won the Japanese Dirt Derby and Musashino Stakes (G3) and the Unicorn Stakes (G3). Nonkono Yume was gelded during his 4-year-old season. Bred by Shadai Farm, Nonkono Yume came into Sunday’s race off a nose victory in the seven-furlong Negishi Stakes (G3) over the Tokyo dirt surface on Jan. 28.
Before a crowd of 50,194, Nonkono Yume, the 10.7-1 fourth choice, was settled in the far rear as the field of 16 cruised down the backstretch with Nishiken Mononofu (JPN) setting the early pace up front. After taking a wide route on the heels of Gold Dream rounding the last two corners and still near the rear when entering the straight, Nonkono Yume had no trouble finding his best stride as he blew past his rivals while producing the fastest last three-furlong speed (37.7), eventually pinning Incantation (JPN) and a stubborn Gold Dream in the last 100 meters to clear the wire first for the title.
Nonkono Yume covered the about eight furlongs in 1:36 over “standard” going.
“The staff tuned him up beautifully and he was in very good form. I kept him wide and in good striking position so that he could unleash his good late charge at any point, which is probably the reason why we were able to win today,” commented winning rider Uchida after the race.
After breaking from 14 post position, 2-1 race favorite Gold Dream, Japan’s 2017 Best Dirt Horse, was off slow sitting third to fourth from the rear and lost ground on both turns but displayed his trade-mark turn of foot down the lane under good urging from Ryan Moore. Although the 5-year-old fought back persistently against the fast closing winner, he was eventually caught and finished a neck behind in second.
Multiple graded-race winner and sixth pick Incantation traveled in sixth to seventh in mid-pack before hitting the top of the lane right beside Gold Dream. The 8-year-old bay charged strongly down the straight but failed to overtake the defending champion and was furthermore nailed by the winner in the last half-furlong to finish third. Sunrise Nova (JPN) finished fourth, followed in order by Let’s Go Donki (JPN), King’s Guard (JPN), Meisho Sumitomo (JPN), Sound True (JPN), Awardee (USA, Ky.), Best Warrior (USA, Ky.), KT Brave (JPN), TM Jinsoku (JPN), Nobo Baccara (JPN), London Town (JPN) Lalabel (JPN) and Nishiken Mononofu (JPN).
TM Jinsoku, the 3.7-1 second choice, stalked the leaders in third position but was outrun by rivals in the last 300 meters and finished 12th.