Anticlimatic year summed up by win for Matsurida Gogh in seasonal showpiece; ANNUAL REPORT 2007 JAPAN Equine flu led to huge anticlimax, says James Crispe.
IT WAS somehow fitting that Matsurida Gogh, a rank outsider, came out on top from a stellar line-up for the season-ending race of the year, the Arima Kinen.
The result seemed to sum up what in many ways was a year of anticlimax for Japan.
It began so promisingly. Deep Impact may have gone but Admire Moon, one of the 'nearly' horses of 2006, further boosted the standing of Japanese bloodstock with a triumph in Dubai, and Meisho Samson, the colt who had proved much too strong for Admire Moon in the 2006 Guineas and Derby, looked an improved performer as he edged home in the spring Tenno Sho.
Vodka's sensational Derby win - the first by a filly against the colts for 63 years - kept the buzz going, and when all three stars met in the Takarazuka Kinen in June it was the elders who came out on top, Admire Moon touching off Meisho Samson.
Then equine flu struck and suddenly all hopes of global domination were scuppered, all international raids cancelled.
Meisho Samson Vodka had their hopes of avenging Deep Impact's baffling Arc reverse dashed, Admire Moon was no longer on the way to York for the Juddmonte International, and Delta Blues and Pop Rock were not allowed to attempt a repeat of their remarkable Melbourne Cup one-two.
The autumn championship races were a mixed bag. The siblings Daiwa Major and Daiwa Scarlet triumphantly enhanced their reputations (Daiwa Scarlet putting Vodka firmly in her place) and Meisho Samson moved to the brink of megastardom when gaining revenge on Admire Moon in the Tenno Sho.
But then Admire Moon got a peach of a ride from the unsung Yasunari Iwata to pinch a slowly run Japan Cup, with Meisho Samson only third. Then the Nakayama course specialist Matsurida Gogh stunned punters as the Arima Kinen failed to live up to its billing.
This 50-1 shocker thwarted a fairytale result for the two 'Daiwas', who chased Matsurida Gogh home. It was so nearly a year of a red, red vintage - Scarlet Rose, granddam of Vermilion, who bounced back from a Dubai World Cup thrashing to smash the course record in the Japan Cup Dirt, is a full-sister to Scarlet Bouquet, dam of the Arima Kinen place-getters.
So, thanks to an untimely outbreak of flu, the Japanese season was one of unfulfilled promise. Overseas raids on Japan's top races were thwarted - with the exception of the Nakayama Grand Jump, won for a third straight year by the amazing Australian, Karasi, who was once a Brighton maiden winner for Sir Michael Stoute and Walter Swinburn.
But Admire Moon's Dubai Duty Free and Shadow Gate's Singapore Airlines International Cup apart, Japanese horses were notable by their absence from the top of the podium on the foreign stage, and even at home it was hard to work out just who the champions really were.
Kazuo Fujisawa 56-year-old former Gavin Pritchard-Gordon assistant landed his 12th title but has endured a Group 1 drought stretching back to May 2006.
Yutaka Take Still only 38 but has been champion every year since 1989 except 2001, when he was based in France. Became first rider to notch 3,000 JRA wins.
TOP 3 HORSES
Admire Moon (Hiroyoshi Matsuda) 4yo colt End Sweep-My Katies Best over 1m2f but stamina just lasted in Japan Cup; retires to Darley Japan as a three-time Group 1 winner.
Daiwa Major (Hiroyuki Uehara) 6yo entire Sunday Silence-Scarlet Bouquet Confirmed himself Japan's top miler with two Group 1 wins at the trip, including second successive Mile Championship; now off to stud.
Daiwa Scarlet (Kunihide Matsuda) 3yo filly Agnes Tachyon-Scarlet Bouquet Leader of a Classic crop where the fillies were better than the colts; followed up 1,000 Guineas win with two more Group 1s in the autumn.
Yasunari Iwata: peach of a ride on Admire Moon