Ushba Tesoro took flight in deep stretch in the $12 million Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse March 25 and capped another big international night for Japan with a last-to-first visually stunning 2 3/4-length victory.
Locally trained Algiers appeared to have the race in the bag, holding a big lead after surging to the front in the stretch. Then, jockey Yuga Kawada got to work energetically on Ushba Tessoro. The 6-year-old, who was dead last on the stretch turn, responded with a devastating turn of foot to pass them all. Algiers held second and Emblem Road, the 2022 Saudi Cup winner, finished third.
Last year’s 2022 Dubai World Cup winner, Country Grammer, finished seventh.
Winning trainer Noboru Takagi said the World Cup win was “by far the greatest honor of my career.”
Takagi gave no indication of plans for Ushba Tesoro. The only remaining Grade 1 dirt race in Japan is the Champions Cup Dec. 3 at Chukyo Racecourse.
“We will go back to Japan as he’s a bit vulnerable in hot weather and heat,” the trainer said. “We’ll see how he is over the summer and come up with a plan for him.”
Ushba Tesoro, by 2103 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe runner-up Orfevre out of the King Kamehameha mare Millefeui, completed the 2,000 meters (about 1 1/4 miles) on a fast track in 2:03.25.
He went to the post as a mild long shot on the international markets despite posting four straight wins at home in Japan, including the Group 1 Tokyo Daishoten at Oi Racecourse.
Ushba Tesoro spent most of his early career on the turf, with mildly respectable results. He blossomed when, last April, trainer Noboru Takagi switched him to dirt courses, where he now has five wins from six starts. With dirt racing still an afterthought in Japan, the international scene was a logical spot for the horse.
The Japanese victory came at the expense of some global stars, as did that country’s 1-2-3-4 finish earlier in the program in the UAE Derby.
Country Grammer, last year’s Dubai World Cup winner and twice second in the $20 million Saudi Cup for trainer Bob Baffert, was caught wide from an outside gate and raced mid-field under Frankie Dettori but had no punch in the stretch, finishing seventh, beaten more than 13 lengths.
“He ran so big in Saudi Arabia, and I was never going today,” said Dettori, riding in his final World Cup before retirement. “I pushed him, but he felt lethargic. When they run so big, sometimes they take longer to recover than you think.”
For Algiers’ connections, the defeat came as a rude awakening. The 6-year-old gelding was an easy winner in his two local prep races during the Dubai World Cup Carnival season. With James Doyle up, he came from behind the early pace to take the lead but had no response to Ushba Tessoro’s surge.
Panthalassa, winner of the $20 million Saudi Cup in his previous start, drew the outside gate, was hustled up to contest the lead, and had nothing left in the stretch run, finishing 10th.
Japanese connections sent 27 horses to compete on the World Cup program, eight of them entered in the World Cup itself.
Japan could not be beaten in the $1 million UAE Derby March 25 at Meydan Racecourse and the star of that show now is on his way to Louisville. Derma Sotogake led home a 1-2-3-4 sweep for Japan at the end of the 1,900 meters (about 1 3/16 miles), earning 100 points on the leaderboard on the Road to the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve – more than enough to qualify for the race.
“Yes, I will go!” said the winning owner, 73-year-old Hiroyuki Asanuma, noting he has never been to Kentucky or to Churchill Downs.
“I have been in this business for 30 years and this is my first big horse,” said a beaming Asanuma.
The victory for Japan was emphatic. Dura Erede finished second but was 5 1/2 lengths behind the frontrunning winner. It was another 4 1/2 lengths to Continuar in third and 3 1/2 lengths more to Perriere in fourth.
The winner was timed in 1:55.81, the fastest time in the race since Mendelssohn recorded a winning time of 1:55.18 in 2018. Derma Sotogake returned $14.50 for a $2 win wager in an international pari-mutuel wagering pool.
Dubai-trained Go Soldier Go was the best of the rest in fifth. Coolmore’s hope, Cairo, was never seriously involved and finished 10th. Worcester, trained by Bob Baffert, started slowly, rushed up to reach contention on the backstretch, but reported home 11th. Two imports running for trainer Doug O’Neill, Tall Boy and Ah Jeez, finished ninth and last of 13.
“The Japanese horses in that race are really good,” winning jockey Christophe Lemaire said. “It really means something when you win a Derby by 5 1/2 lengths.
Asked about the May 6 Kentucky Derby, Lemaire said, “How could you refuse a mount in the Kentucky Derby? I had my first experience last year (13th aboard UAE Derby winner Crown Pride) and I’d be happy to go again.”