05/04/2007 12:00AM

Japan-bred Utopia raises stock with U.S. win


LEXINGTON, Ky. - With a length victory in the Westchester Handicap on Wednesday, the Japanese-bred Utopia stamped his passport with another mark of international success. In the Westchester, the 7-year-old horse defeated major winners Sun King, Evening Attire, and Happy Hunting, and is likely to contest some of the principal stakes at about a mile this season prior to a foreseeable retirement to stud next year.

The chestnut son of Forty Niner has circled the globe, racing with distinction in various jurisdictions but showing a distinct preference for racing on dirt tracks at distances up to 10 furlongs.

Utopia's race in the Westchester on Wednesday was his first start since March 25, 2006, when he won the Godolphin Mile, a Group 2 stakes at Nad Al Sheba that was on the same card of races as the Dubai World Cup. Godolphin purchased Utopia following his four-length success in the Godolphin Mile, but the horse had not started since.

A muscular and good-looking chestnut horse with a blaze, Utopia had been training well at Payson Park in Florida and posted a solid series of drills for his return to competition.

In his American debut, Utopia showed his competitive vigor and fitness by taking the lead on the turn in the Westchester and then coming back to win after being headed. He completed the mile in 1:33.23.

The Westchester victory increased Utopia's earnings to more than $4.8 million, and the horse has 9 victories in 32 starts.

Utopia's victory in the Westchester was the first for a Japanese-bred racer in a graded stakes on dirt in America since Sunday Break won the Peter Pan in 2002. Not coincidentally, both are by American champion Forty Niner, a high-class son of Mr. Prospector and the Tom Rolfe mare File. Although Forty Niner was a leading sire in the United States and had success through his sons and daughters at stud, he has not been an equal success with his turf racers.

And after his export to Japan, where most of the racing is on turf, his stud career did not reach the heights expected for a stallion of Forty Niner's proven quality and ability.

While Forty Niner never ranked lower than 11th place on the general sire list in Japan from 2001 through 2005, he ranked no lower than fourth on the list according to dirt earnings.

Of his Japanese racers on dirt, Utopia was the best, winning three Grade 1 races: the Japan Derby Grand Prix at 2,000 meters as a 3-year-old and the Japan Mile Championship at 1,600 meters at 4 and 5.

Dan Pride, chief operating officer with Darley USA, noted that Utopia's sire would give him considerable cachet as a stallion prospect because "Forty Niner has proven that he's a great sire of sires."

A champion juvenile who ran second in the Kentucky Derby, Forty Niner was bred in Kentucky by Claiborne Farm and stood at his birthplace from 1989 to 1995, when the Japan Bloodstock Breeders Association bought the stallion and exported him to Japan.

In the United States, Forty Niner sired Belmont Stakes winner Editor's Note and Grade 1 winners Coronado's Quest, Ecton Park, Nine Keys, Marley Vale, and Gold Fever. His best son at stud is leading sire Distorted Humor, and his other good stallion sons include the deceased End Sweep, Roar, Banker's Gold, and On Target.

Pride noted that in addition to the sire power of Forty Niner, "Utopia has shown talent in three regions of the world in high-class company, while showing speed and courage. Combine his natural ability at a mile, along with his pedigree, and it gives you optimism that he can produce runners."

Darley, Sheikh Mohammed's stud operation, has bases around the world with a focus on producing good runners. The widespread nature of Darley allows it to acquire horses of various types and place them in the breeding environments that seem best suited to their qualities.

"Utopia is an interesting study as a stallion prospect," Pride said. "He's obviously got some age on him, but he's a Grade 1 winner in Japan, a Group 2 winner in Dubai, and now a graded winner in his first start in the U.S. Clearly, he could be an interesting stallion in a lot of markets. We would have to see how the year plays out to see how he would fit, but it's a good situation to be in."

According to ontrack sources in New York, Utopia will continue racing in the United States, with his next start likely to come in the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont.