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Monday, Oct. 29, 2001

Agnes Digital gallops to Emperor's Cup win


Staff writer

Fall top-level racing produced its second major upset in a week as champion miler Agnes Digital outran a highly touted super trio led by T.M. Opera O to win the 2,000-meter Emperor's Cup on Sunday on the rain-soaked turf at Tokyo Racecourse.

As in last week's Kikkasho, a slow pace, this time coupled with a slow track, helped boost a relatively unpopular pick to victory, and brought not applause but murmurs of discontent from the stands.

T.M. Opera O and Agnes Digital went neck and neck from the top of the stretch slope, 200 meters from the finish line, with Agnes Digital on the far outside and T.M. Opera O a good 7 meters to his inside.

Running in top form, T.M. Opera O's monster strides looked set to give him his eighth Grade 1 race. Agnes Digital dug in to the lush untrodden turf of the outside and hung on relentlessly, passing T.M. Opera O with less than three strides to the wire for the win.

"I was just trying to pick the best ground," said jockey Hirofumi Shii, explaining why he took Agnes Digital wide in the final bend. "I never thought I'd win."

At the top of the slope, Shii said he was aware, just barely, that he had lined up with T.M. Opera O.

"With all the mud on my goggles I could just make out him out, but then he (Agnes Digital) accelerated and I was like, Wow!"

Four-year-old Agnes Digital bested the field of 13 by a length with a time of 2 minutes, 2 seconds. T.M. Opera finished in second place, 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Irish-bred second-pick Meisho Doto, with Ibuki Government following in fourth place three-quarters of a length later.

The American-born Agnes Digital, sired by Crafty Prospector, became the first foreign-bred horse to win the Emperor's Cup in 45 years. Closed to foreign stock in 1971, the prestigious race was reopened, with a two foreign-bred limit, last year.

A two-time winner of the Mile Championship, Agnes Digital notched his third G1 victory with the fall version of the Emperor's Cup (Tennosho), his fifth win in 16 starts in national-level racing.

Agnes Digital is owned by Takao Watanabe and trained by Toshiaki Shirai. The Emperor's Cup win was worth 132 million yen.



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