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Japanese pair claim prominent place in Far East affections; When Japanese horses do travel they're a match for anyone - as you'd expect when you consider the extraordinary investment in bloodstock they've made.

Byline: Paul Haigh in Hong Kong

It would take quite a bit to enable Far Eastern punters to shake their addiction to Godolphin and Frankie Dettori. They seem to regard the combination with something like blind respect. The extent to which they're prepared to express that respect with cash was revealed yet again yesterday at Sha Tin when they sent off Grandera, Godolphin's representative in the Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup, at the absurd price of 5-4.

Some progress towards recovery from the addiction must have been made, however, as the former James Fanshawe inmate, whose form couldn't possibly have justified such cramped odds, trailed in fifth behind the two Japanese challengers, Eishin Preston and Agnes Digital.

It will not have been lost on members of the Hong Kong betting fraternity that these same two horses took the Hong Kong Mile and the Hong Kong Cup at their December meeting, and you can be pretty sure that when the next contingent of invaders arrive from across the China Sea they will not be assumed to be inferior to anyone - not even the men from Dubai.

There wasn't a lot to be said about Grandera, who many will now feel has been exposed as something less than a true international Group 1 horse - and, to his credit, Frankie didn't really try to say it, although he did come out with a rather confusing suggestion that perhaps the son of Grand Lodge might have been "a race short of his best".

This was no "one minute we were cantering, the next there was nothing left" performance, though. Dettori treated the favourite rather in the way he tends to treat nearly all his stable's horses these days: as though he was the best in the race. When he hit the front early in the straight it looked for a little while as though he might be. As soon as the Japanese got going it became very clear that he wasn't.

Agnes Digital, having shaken off most of the ill-effects of his disastrous visit to Dubai (although his trainer did insist afterwards that he was "still no more than 90 per cent"), cut Grandera down with considerable ease on the rail. Down the outside, though, came Eishin Preston, about whom the only fear from the vast visiting Japanese press corps had been that he might not quite get the trip. Showing just the same sensational acceleration as he had in December, Japan's top miler first `rounded them up', as they say in these parts, then held on with Yuichi Fukunaga (make a note of the name: it may sound vaguely amusing to us, but he's got a 100 per cent record in his only two rides outside Japan) just giving him backhand

flicks.

Whether Eishin Preston really did get the trip is a matter of conjecture, though, as Agnes was definitely coming back at him and even the remarkable local veteran Indigenous, wound up for what still may not be his last hurrah by the great Ivan Allan, was pulling him back.

It looked very much as though Eishin Preston had beaten his field for class and was then hanging on at the end. His owner is particularly keen that he should be trained for the Japan Cup, whose 12 furlongs will probably be beyond him. His participation in his country's greatest race could well provide connections of some of the world's other top milers with quite a bit of relief, as he looks as though he'd be tremendously difficult to beat in, say, the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Some may think the presence of old Indigenous in third rather devalues the form of yesterday's second leg of the 2002 World Series but they may well be making a big mistake if they do so. There were decent horses behind, and Nayef's Dubaian admirers, as well as Godolphin, who must be feeling a little uneasy about their season's prospects after this setback, will have been distinctly undelighted to note that Helene Vitality, the horse who ran up to him at Nad Al Sheba, could pay him absolutely no compliments from his outside draw.

Last year's AJC Derby winner Universal Prince upheld Australian form, at least to some extent, by running a respectable fourth under a ride that did not win the unqualified approval of his human compatriots, who thought he should have been allowed to relax more early on to preserve his trademark finishing kick.

But the fact is that there was only one horse in this race with a real kick, and the message from it has to be one of genuine significance. We may be used to thinking of the world powers in racing as those clustered round the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, when we get really parochial we tend to talk about power these days emanating mainly from Ballydoyle and Al Quoz.

In December we hailed the arrival of a third racing power - and a big one too - in the Land of the Chrysanthemum Throne. On the whole the Japanese don't send expeditionary forces abroad much because their prize-money is so enormous they can't afford to ignore it. When they do travel, though, they're a match for anyone - as you'd expect when you consider the extraordinary investment in bloodstock they've made over the last few decades.

Are there any more like these two at home? I think we're going to find there are. You've seen Eishin Preston. Now look out for Eishin Blackburn, Burnley, Bolton

. . . and the rest.

Don't expect to get much value about them from the Hong Kong tote, though. It's in the nature of punters that when they break themselves of one slightly irrational obsession, another one pops right up.

CAPTION(S):

Eishin Preston and Yuichi Fukunaga return in triumph after winning the Queen Elizabeth II Cup yesterday
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Apr 22, 2002
Words:970
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