07/14/2005 11:00PM

Cesario not even the best at home

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NEW YORK - The much-overworked adjective "awesome" found itself a proper place with regard to Cesario's victory in the American Oaks on July 3 at Hollywood Park'. Who could fail to have been impressed with the Japanese invader's overpowering four-length runaway from an international field of thoroughly outclassed fillies?

On that day her owners at U. Carrot Farm and her trainer, Katsuhiko Sumii, wrote a new chapter in Japan's often-tentative foray into the brave new world of globalized racing. Trainer Hideyuki Mori had written part one on Aug. 9, 1998, when he saddled Seeking the Pearl to win the 6 1/2-furlong Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville. A Seeking the Gold filly, Seeking the Pearl thus became the first Japanese-trained horse to win a Group 1 race in France, or anywhere else in Europe. Groundbreaking Group 1 victories for the Japanese have followed in England with Agnes World in the 2000 July Cup and, most impressively, in Hong Kong a year later when they pulled off a famous triple on Dec. 16 at Sha Tin with Agnes Digital in the Hong Kong Cup, Eishin Preston in the Hong Kong Mile, and Stay Gold in the Hong Kong Vase.

Drawn wide in post 13 for the American Oaks, Cesario was bumped at the start, rushed up to press the pace while racing wide, and gunned to the lead a half-mile from home, yet required only a hand ride from Yuichi Fukunaga to keep the pack at bay. A 3-year-old daughter of the Sunday Silence stallion and Japanese Derby and Japan Cup winner Special Week, Cesario is a product of Katsumi Yoshida's powerful Northern Farm, but she may not be the best filly of her generation in Japan.

That honor may belong to Rhein Kraft, who handed Cesario her lone defeat in five starts when she beat her by a head in the Japanese 1000 Guineas at Hanshin on April 10. Rhein Kraft then went on to beat colts in the Grade 1 NHK Mile Cup to establish herself as the best 3-year-old miler in Japan. Also bred at Northern Farm, she is a daughter of End Sweep out of the Sunday Silence mare Must Be Loved.

Yet most Japanese observers probably wouldn't put either Rhein Kraft or Cesario in the same league with Deep Impact, the undefeated winner of the 1 1/4-mile Japanese 2000 Guineas by 2 1/2 lengths and the 1 1/2-mile Japanese Derby by five lengths. Deep Impact is being compared to the very best horses Japan has produced over the last quarter-century.

Deep Impact is being given a summer vacation by trainer Yasuo Ikee before returning in the 1 3/8-mile Japanese St. Leger Trial at Nakayama on Sept 18. Part of Sunday Silence's next-to-last crop, he will attempt to become the first winner of the Japanese Triple Crown since Symboli Rudolf in 1984 when he goes in the 1 3/4-mile Japanese St. Leger at Kyoto on Oct. 23.

Cesario may be the only horse capable of beating Deep Impact that day, but she probably has other plans, most likely the 1 1/4-mile Shuka Sho for 3-year-old fillies at Kyoto on Oct. 16. The Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf has been mentioned as a possibility, but she would have to be supplemented for that.

Of course, the Japan Cup is the goal of every top Japanese horse. That 1 1/2-mile event will be run at Tokyo on Nov. 27, and although Deep Impact is fully nominated to the Breeders' Cup, he is very likely to follow his Triple Crown opportunity with a go at the Japan Cup.

The influence of Sunday Silence in Japanese racing remains preponderant. He is the sire of Deep Impact, the grandsire of Cesario, and the broodmare sire of Rhein Kraft. Foals of his last crop are 2-year-olds this season, posing the question: What will Japanese racing be like in the now-dawning post-Sunday Silence era?

We had a peek at this week's Japan Racing Horse Association's select foal sale. The sale-topper was by first-crop sire and 2002-2003 Japanese Horse of the Year Symboli Kris S. A half-brother to Rhein Kraft, he was consigned by Northern Farm and went for $1,875,000 to Masahiro Noda, who is sending him to Deep Impact's trainer, Yasuo Ikee.

An Admire Vega half-brother to Dubai World Cup runner-up To the Victory went for $1,517,857, while an Empire Maker half-brother to Man o' War winner Magistretti sold for $1,120,000. The sale's average price of $256,506 was up 0.3 percent, while the median of $234,000 was up 7.2 percent.

The Sunday Silence influence was on display this week. On Wednesday night, Kane Hekili won the Grade 1 Japanese Dirt Derby at Ohi Racecourse near Tokyo. Like Deep Impact, he was bred by Northern Farm and is owned by Makoto Kaneko. What's more, he is trained by Katsuhiko Sumii, the trainer of Cesario. And like Cesario, he is by a son of Sunday Silence, Fuji Kiseki, another indication that the great Japanese sire is well on his way to becoming an equally great sire of sires.