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Monday, May 27, 2002

Tanino Gimlet wins Derby as Koizumi looks on

Staff writer

"The luckiest horse wins the Derby," they say in Japan.

But for Tanino Gimlet, the favorite in his past six starts, luck seemed to have deserted him a while back. In both the Triple Crown first leg, the Satsukisho, and his last outing, the NHK Mile, Tanino Gimlet finished third and, bumped and blocked, had been denied a clear shot at the prize, which the majority of fans believed he deserved.

News photo
Tanino Gimlet wins the Nippon Derby.

Sunday at Tokyo Racecourse, in the Nippon Derby's 69th running before a crowd of over 128,000, and with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi looking on, luck finally caught up.

In a stretch showdown that had four horses lined up locked in battle, Tanino Gimlet emerged the winner by a length, with foreign-bred Symboli Kris S. in second place.

"I didn't know if we had the win until we were over the line," ace jockey Yutaka Take admitted.

With competition high in an extremely strong lineup of 18, a medium pace from the gate meant ample fuel was left throughout the field as it turned into the stretch. After running relaxed five lengths from the rear down the backstretch, Take showed remarkable patience, sitting tight as the horses rounded the turn and began to make their moves. At the top of the straight, Take made his, bringing Tanino Gimlet sharply out for a clear run.

"The ground was good out there, the stretch was long and I figured I could catch them," Take said.

With less than 100 meters left, Symboli Kris S., Gold Allure and Machikane Akatsuki lined up with Mega Stardom and Tanino Gimlet closing fast. With four strides to go, Tanino Gimlet reached the top, relegating Symboli Kris S. to second. Machikane Akatsuki, under the urgings of American rider Kent Desormeaux, edged Mega Stardom for third.

The crowd erupted into cheers and a chant of "Yu-ta-ka, Yu-ta-ka!" as Take slowly rode back toward the stands, repeatedly punching the air with his fist and holding both arms high in triumph. He then blew the fans a kiss before he and Tanino Gimlet disappeared into the tunnel beneath the stands. Take became the first Japanese jockey to win three Derbys.

It was the first win in the classic for trainer Kunihide Matsuda, who obtained his license in 1995. Matsuda was lost for words to describe his feelings after the win.

"All I can say is I'm overjoyed," Matsuda said, adding that he had Tanino Gimlet marked for the Derby from his debut race last August. "After that race in Hokkaido, I knew I was going to take him to the Derby."

"Really strong," was Take's assessment of Tanino Gimlet. "Every time I ride him he's stronger, and I think he's going to get even stronger."

Prime Minister Koizumi stole the spotlight before the race as the crowd turned en masse and cheered as he waved from the grandstand's upper tier.

A sudden downpour that began just after the race continued during the awards ceremony, but Koizumi braved the rain to present owner Yuzo Tanimizu with the Derby trophy.

Take said the prime minister congratulated him on the win, and said, "My son has told me all about you." Take explained that the prime minister's son, Kotaro, had regularly visited him in the hospital after his fall earlier this year, in which he suffered a broken pelvis.

Tanino Gimlet clocked 2 minutes, 26.2 seconds over 2,400 meters of turf. The Derby win was worth 150 million yen.

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