07/31/2010 11:20AM

Japanese Enjoy a Taste of Guinness


The Japanese began their many-pronged assault on every corner of the racing globe at Ireland's ultra-popular Galway Festival on Friday when Pop Rock scored a handy victory in the Guinness Race, a 1 3/4-mile conditions event worth $28,000. The 9-year-old son of 1996 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Helissio had been part of a big surprise to the Australian racing community in 2006 when he finished second behind his countrymate Delta Blues in the Melbourne Cup, but he had won only once since then when taking the Grade 2 Meguro Kinen, a 1 5/8-mile handicap at Tokyo on May 27, 2007.

Pop Rock had been trained in Japan by Katsushiko Sumii but was turned over by his owners at the Pop Rock Syndicate to the Curragh-based Japanese conditioner Takashi Kodama for what remains of his career. In the Guinness he led over 3 furlongs from the line and had little trouble turning back the late challenge of Caesar's Song, beating him by 2 1/2 lengths.

The most remarkable thing about this race was that Pop Rock, who was ridden by the Aga Khan's first-string Irish jockey Fran Berry, was allowed to get away at 9-2. That's an extraordinary price for a horse who has finished second in the Melbourne Cup as well as the Japan's premier international event, the Japan Cup, as he did in 2007 to Admire Moon. It is well known that some Irish trainers give their horses a few swigs of Guinness from time to time, but in allowing Pop Rock to get away at 9-2, the amount of the heading brew the bettors themselves had imbibed at the Galway Festival must have impaired their judgement.

Kodama has plans to run Pop Rock in the 1 3/4-mile, Group 1 Irish St. Leger at the Curragh on Sept. 11. The very next day Japanese 2000 Guineas winner Victoire Pisa is slated to have his Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe prep in the Group 2 Prix Niel, shortly after Takarazuka Kinen winner Nakayama Festa goes in the Group 2 Prix Foy in his Arc prep. Pop Rock's success in his European debut bodes well for their chances, as well as for those of Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf hopeful Red Desire, who is aiming at Belmont's Flower Bowl on Oct. 2. Champion Japanese dirt horse Espoir City has the Breeder's' Cup Classic on his agenda, while the Japanese are planning another raid on the Melbourne Cup with Jaguar Mail and Meiner Kitz.

The Japanese have had notable success around the world over the last twenty years. In America Cesario has won Hollywood's American Oaks and Casino Drive Belmont's Peter Pan. In France, Seeking the Pearl has won the Prix Maurice de Gheest and Taiki Shuttle the Prix Jacques Le Marois. El Condor Pasa took both the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and the Prix Foy before finishing a heartbreaking second to Montjeu in the 1999 Arc. In 2001 the Japanese scored a rare triple on Hong Kong International Day at Sha Tin when Agnes Digital won the Hong Kong Cup, Stay Gold the Hong Kong Vase, and Eishin Preston the Hong Kong Mile. In England, their lone big race tally came when Agnes World landed the 6-furlong July Cup in 2000, but in Dubai the Japanese have won the Dubai Sheema Classic with Heart's Cry and Stay Gold and the Dubai Duty Free with Admire Moon.

This year, the Japanese, backed by the all-pwerful Japan Racing Association, appear to have a concerted purpose behind their international efforts. Players with an opportunity to wager on any of the races in which Japanese raiders are running are well advised to give each and every one of them a long look.