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Monday, May 28, 2001

Jungle Pocket wins 68th Japan Derby


Staff writer

Race favorite Jungle Pocket topped the all-male field of 18 and fellow "super trio" horses Dantsu Flame and Kurofune to capture the 68th running of the Japan Derby Sunday at Tokyo Racecourse.

Making up for his disappointing fourth-place showing in Japan's triple crown first leg, the Satsukisho, on April 15, the Tony Bin-sired Jungle Pocket easily beat third pick Dantsu Flame to the finish line by a length and a half. Dancing Colors crossed the wire in third place 21/2 lengths later. Kent Desormeaux brought sixth pick Born King home in fourth place.

Jungle Pocket, though highly agitated before entering the gate, broke smoothly and took up a position midfield, with Dantsu Flame directly ahead and Kurofune to the rear. Jockey Koichi Tsunoda waited patiently for the turn.

"Slow and easy was how I planned it. I didn't want to do anything foolish." As the horses rounded into the straight, Tsunoda suddenly brought Jungle Pocket sharply out from the rail, behind and to the outside of Kurofune and up alongside Dantsu Flame.

"I didn't want traffic troubles later on and figured running in between Kurofune and Dantsu Flame was the ideal place to be," Tsunoda explained later.

Dantsu Flame and Jungle Pocket lined up at the 100-meter mark with Born King closing. Jungle Pocket easily gained the top with 50 meters to go and held on for the win.

Second choice American-bred Kurofune may have been compromised by the rain-soaked turf. Failing to show the tremendous kick he displayed earlier this month in the NHK Mile, Kurofune ran out of gas 400 meters before the end but managed to hold on for fifth.

Glad to have drawn the No. 18 gate, the 30-year-old Tsunoda said: "I figured we were better off than in the Satsukisho, where we had the No. 1 draw. On the outside, we'd have a good view of the others and be able to take our time."

Jungle Pocket's earlier agitation had been a concern for Tsunoda, who said the noise from the crowd seemed to have shaken the horse considerably. "Loading us last helped though," he said. "I'd been pretty tense, but I rode confident that I was on the best horse," Tsunoda explained, admitting that the pressure he felt as the race favorite was strong.

But, he pointed out: "There's the pressure you feel when you're confident and the pressure you feel when you're not and there's quite a difference between the two."

Owner Yomoji Saito, watching from the stands, said: "When they crossed the line, I just started crying." Saito's older brother died of cancer last week. "I think he was pushing from up above," Saito said.

Relief was the feeling that swept over trainer Sakae Watanabe as well when he saw his horse winning the race. "Right now all I feel is tremendous relief," he said. "The joy will come later, I'm sure." Watanabe said he believed the horse should have won the Satsukisho and would have if it had not been for interference along the way.

It was the first win of the Derby for Tsunoda, who was riding in the classic for the fifth time. It was the first win as well for former jockey Watanabe, 68, who captured the race with his fourth entrant.

Jungle Pocket was bred at Hokkaido's Northern Farm. He is now four for six with over 313 million yen in prize money. The Derby first place was worth 150 million yen.



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The Japan Times




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