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Monday, Dec. 29, 2008

Daiwa Scarlet claims Arima Kinen victory


Staff writer

FUNABASHI, Chiba Pref. — Daiwa Scarlet went wire to wire Sunday in a tremendous show of strength to top the Arima Kinen at Nakayama Racecourse by a length and three-quarters and become the first filly in 37 years to capture the yearend grand finale.

The chestnut Scarlet clocked 2 minutes, 31.5 seconds over the 2,500 meters of turf as she bested a field of 14, a field that for the first time in as many years failed to include the fans' favorite for the partially ballot-chosen lineup.

News photo
Scarlet Pimpernel: Jockey Katsumi Ando waves atop Daiwa Scarlet after the filly won the Arima Kinen on Sunday. KYODO PHOTO

Though the presence of that horse, Vodka — Daiwa Scarlet's biggest rival — would have undoubtedly given the win an air of sweet revenge, the victory was by no means easy. Scarlet only made it look so.

"She is such a strong horse and today she was able to show that," said rider Katsumi Ando.

"She has the speed and she is able to hang in there to the end. I am so glad she could do it today," a cloudless, nearly balmy December day that saw over 117,000 racing fans make their way to the Chiba track.

Scarlet, given a "perfect" ride by Ando, pulled the others at a pace so fast it left those who dared match it in the dust.

Only Admire Monarch, the least favorite who had humbly and wisely taken up a position in the far rear, was able to save face. Into the straight, Monarch had enough power left to move to the far outside from last position and romp past the others for a second-place finish.

Fourth choice Air Shady finished 3/4-length later in third place. Second pick Matsurida Gogh, last year's winner, faded to 12th place, while third choice Japan Cup winner Screen Hero just made the board in fifth place.

Dream Journey garnered fourth place, with Meisho Samson unable to manage better than eighth in his final run.

The win of the Arima's 53rd running was the first for both jockey Ando and trainer Kunihide Matsuda. The Ritto-based Matsuda, no stranger to the winner's circle, went from nearly speechless in the postrace interview to virtually unable to stop talking, as he gave detail after detail of the filly's long road to the prestigious win.

"I don't know what to say," he began, "but can only express my appreciation and gratitude to all the people who helped bring her to this Arima victory."

Matsuda praised rider Ando for his work, saying: "He was able to keep her in the lead the whole way. It was a perfect ride."

Racing regulations had earlier prevented Ando, when licensed only on the local circuit, from participating in the Arima.

"Just being able to ride in the Arima is a great feeling, but being given a ride on the race favorite is like a dream," the 48-year-old veteran said.

Second in last year's Arima, and second by a mere 2 cm in the fall Tennosho, Scarlet had failed to notch a group 1 race since last year's Queen Elizabeth, the fourth in a four-race streak that had included three top-level races.

From nearly unbeatable to two losses out of four this year, it was the kind of scenario that can wear, even rattle confidence, not only the horse's but the staff's as well.

"It was important that everyone keep the hopes up," Matsuda said, "and keep aiming to reach the top."

With keen analysis of her races, Matsuda said he realized he had to, at any cost, keep Scarlet from tensing up. He made this his aim at every step of her training from the November Tennosho, from how she entered the track during morning work to being careful not to overwork her in the slightest.

Matsuda took care on Sunday as well, allowing Scarlet to leave the parade ring and enter the track with the others, unlike in the Emperor's Cup. Despite her strength, Daiwa Scarlet is a gentle soul.

"She gets lonely easily," Ando explained, "and wonders where the others have gone if we bring her out before them, so this time we made sure not to upset her."

The effort paid off. Mounting her Sunday, Ando said, "she was a different horse from the Tennosho. She was very relaxed."

Matsuda was apparently so pleased with her performance, he expressed his desire to race Daiwa Scarlet overseas next year. "Three wins" is his goal.



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