KYOTO -- The competition was high but the return rock-bottom on Sunday as the four top picks crossed the finish line in exact order of their popularity in the spring Emperor's Cup. Race favorite T.M. Opera O topped the field of 12 by three-quarters of a length in the 3,200-meter Grade I classic followed by Rascal Suzuka, Narita Top Road and Stay Gold in that order. Jockey Ryuji Wada said he more or less let the 4-year-old colt run his own race. "He was feeling good, almost too good so I let him go. I just kind of showed him the way," the 22-year-old said. Wada held T.M. Opera O to a position forward of midfield and just off the pace behind frontrunners Tamamo Inazuma and Leo Ryuho until the final turn. Into the straight the "three powers" moved to the front with T.M. Opera O on top and Narita Top Road close behind. Yutaka Take and Rascal Suzuka made their bid on the outside and succeeded in catching Top Road in the final stride.
It was the first win of the Emperor's Cup and only the second G1 win for Kansai-based trainer and ex-jockey Ichizo Iwamoto. "For us in Kansai, the Emperor's Cup is the most coveted race there is. As a jockey I had always wanted to win it but I always ended up somewhere way in the back," the 52-year-old Iwamoto said with a half-hearted chuckle.
T.M. Opera O captured the triple crown's first leg Satsukisho last year, giving Iwamoto his first big win in 10 years of training.
The Opera House-sired T.M. Opera O, out of Once Wed, by Blushing Groom, was bred at Kineusu Farm in Hokkaido's Urakawa. The white-starred chestnut improved his record to seven wins in 14 starts and has amassed over 628 million yen in prize money for owner Masatsugu Takezono.