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Monday, Dec. 25, 2006

DEEP IMPACT'S FINAL HURRAH

Take rides horse to Arima Kinen triumph


Staff writer

FUNABASHI, Chiba Prefecture -- "He flew. He flew like never before." With words he has used race after race, Yutaka Take once again chose them to describe a titan of thoroughbreds -- Deep Impact.

News photo
Deep Impact, ridden by Yutaka Take, wins the Arima Kinen Sunday at Nakayama Race Course in Funabashi, Chiba Pref. It was the final career race for Japan's 2005 Triple Crown winner. KYODO PHOTO

Sunday at Nakayama Race Course, the horse his rider claims is the "best horse in the world," pulled off a 3-length win of Japan's yearend grand finale, the Arima Kinen.

It was his last run, the last victory in a career that shot him to the top and kept him there. It capped a career of 12 wins in 14 races, one second, and, in the world's most prestigious race, the Arc de Triomphe, a third. It included 10 graded race wins, seven of them top-level, and Japan's Triple Crown.

Take, aboard for all of them, guided his "partner" to his final victory as Deep Impact once again made it look easy, topping a field of 14 in the Arima's 51st running Sunday before packed stands that included 10,000 loyal fans who had been waiting at the racetrack gates at 4 a.m.

Race sixth pick Pop Rock, second in this year's Melbourne Cup, finished in second place and Daiwa Major, the year's champion miler, managed to go the extra distance to cross the line in third place.

Deep Impact clocked 2 minutes, 31.9 seconds over the 2,500 meters of fast turf.

Take was able to keep the raring-to-go Deep Impact relaxed in the early stages, holding him in a position three from the rear.

"He was the most relaxed today he's ever been and I wish he could have been like this earlier in his career. Still, he was always ready for liftoff, always ready to fly," Take said, "but he waited patiently." Out front, Admire Main, Daiwa Major and Meisho Samson set the pace.

In a style that has characterized many of his races, Deep Impact began his move forward from the final bend, going wide and hitting top gear with the kind of footwork that drops jaws and sends the racing tickets of anyone who dared not back him fluttering into the air.

"The final turn was just amazing," Take said with an awed shake of his head. "A jockey doesn't get to feel this too often."

Deep Impact took the lead soon after the 200-meter mark and Take never looked back.

In the postrace media meet, Take did look back at the past two years with Deep Impact, a time that sent him to emotional heights, then dropped him to depths after a doping scandal struck Deep Impact's Arc run from the books.

"Never before have I been made to think so much about what racing can be about, the excitement, the disappointment, the fear. Deep Impact was always there, always in my head, in my thoughts," Take said.

"He was, I don't know, not a friend . . . He was a partner. When I got on him in the paddock today, I asked him, just from my heart, 'How're you doing?' And when we crossed that finish line, I could only say 'Congratulations. Well done.' "

After the award ceremony, hundreds of fans crowded the fence by the weighing room in hopes of catching a glimpse of Take. Holding signs expressing thanks, they called out to the jockey. "Thank you!" and "Congratulations!"

"I was so happy to hear them and I just wanted to say the same right back," Take said, "for sticking by us through everything."

It was with a complicated mix of emotions that Take bid his partner farewell Sunday. "Today I just wanted him to go out in form. He's lucky to be retiring and I envy him (in) his life at stud," Take said with a chuckle.

Take admitted he felt relief at their parting as well. "Of course, riding a horse like this is a joy for a jockey, an honor, but it also came with a lot of responsibility. The responsibility was tremendous. It was tough and at times painful.

"I wish we could have revenged the Arc loss," Take said, "but his retirement is decided. You won't be able to see him at the track anymore, but you can go to Hokkaido and see him, and I am looking forward to riding his sons and daughters as soon as possible."

Deep Impact bowed out of his racing career in a post-Arima retirement ceremony attended by over 50,000 of his fans. The Sunday Silence-sired 4-year-old, out of the Alzao mare Wind in Her Hair, is being retired to stud in Hokkaido in a record 5.1 billion yen syndicate.



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