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Monday, May 29, 2000

Agnes Flight triumphs in Japan Derby thriller

Staff writer

It was a dream race, the 67th Japan Derby, the kind of race you'll always remember.

On Sunday, over 161,000 people looked on as the front pair dueled side by side down the long Tokyo stretch. On the inside was Satsukisho winner and race favorite Air Shakur in sight of his second Triple Crown jewel and with jockey Yutaka Take within reach of his third Derby win in a row.

On the outside was third pick Agnes Flight, in only his fifth race, running in pursuit of a classic victory as his mother and grandmother had done before him. On his back was Hiroshi Kawachi, who'd been down the Derby stretch 16 times before but had never passed the finish line first.

As the two frontrunners thundered down the track toward the finishing line, the roar of the crowd rose, along with the almost unbearable tension. As the finishing post loomed, the roar turned to a scream, the two horses were neck and neck -- and then it was all over.

The fans waited to see if Take would complete a historic treble or Kawachi would make it an emotional first.

Then the numbers flashed onto the results board: Agnes Flight by a nose. Kawachi's dream was fulfilled after 26 years of waiting.

"I wasn't really sure if I'd won and thought it'd be pretty embarrassing to make a victory run if I hadn't," commented Kawachi who hesitated to celebrate immediately after the race. "Then Take rode up and congratulated me."

Kawachi rode toward the stands, raising his arm high in victory. It seemed the 45-year-old jockey just couldn't get enough. It was a while before Kawachi, his eyes reddened, could find his voice.

"He won on heart," he said of Agnes Flight. "At the top of the slope in the stretch, there was a moment when I thought we weren't going to make it, but then he kept on. He just hung in there and I kept thinking, 'Where's the finish line? Where's the finish line?' "

Kawachi rode both the mother of Agnes Flight, Agnes Flora, to victory in the Okasho and his grandmother, Agnes Lady, to a win of the Oaks.

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