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Monday, April 16, 2007

Jockey Tanaka, Victory triumph in Satsuki-sho

Staff writer

FUNABASHI, Chiba Pref. -- The clue was in the name Sunday for those seeking this year's Satsuki-sho winner at Nakayama. In fact, the clue WAS the name -- Victory.

News photo
Jockey Katsuharu Tanaka reacts after seventh-favorite Victory won the Satsuki-sho on Sunday at Nakayama Racecourse in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture. KYODO PHOTO

Turning the tables on top hypes Admire Aura and Fusaichi Ho O, seventh pick Victory and runnerup 15th choice Sun Zeppelin blazed to a runaway 1-2 finish in the first leg of Japan's Triple Crown. The return on the exacta went to nearly 1,800-fold.

Paired with Victory was Katsuharu "Kachi" Tanaka, who took home his first Grade 1 win in 15 years.

The 36-year-old Tanaka was riding with the "difficult" bay colt for the first time, after both previous riders Yutaka Take and Yasunari Iwata turned him down.

Fearing Victory would tear off in the preliminaries, expending his energy before the race got under way as he had in his debut, groom Tsuyoshi Hiruta and wife, Takako, led the feisty colt to the gate.

The precautions paid off, with Victory breaking well from the No. 17 gate and Tanaka able to ease him in toward the rail as the field of 18 passed the stands.

Victory took the lead from Sun Zeppelin by the backstretch and the pair remained one and two until the end.

A heated neck-and-neck battle saw Zeppelin in front for a moment in the final strides, but the bob of the heads gave the race to Victory.

Fusaichi Ho O made a gallant bid for the top in the final meters but came up short by a nose in third place. Admire Aura finished in fourth 1 1/2 lengths later.

The win was a surprise for all, including jockey Tanaka.

"I thought I'd lost," he said beaming his "Kachi smile," "but then they started congratulating me and I realized I was the winner."

Tanaka, who had failed to notch a Grade 1 win in 139 tries since his last in 1995, had begun to be teasingly called "Katsuurara" after Haruurara, the mare that shot to recent nationwide renown for her losing ways on the local circuit.

"I kept a lot of people waiting," Tanaka said apologetically with a grin, "and I hope this makes it up to them a bit."

With a record of 3-for-4, Victory has now earned more than 171 million yen for owner Hideko Kondo. The Satsuki-sho win was worth 97 million yen.

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