11/27/2006 1:00AM

Japan Cup win puts Deep Impact in stratosphere


Deep Impact returned to his winning ways with a thoroughly convincing and popular victory in the $4.13 million Japan Cup at Tokyo on Sunday, beating his main rivals, Ouija Board, who ran third, and Heart's Cry, who finished 10th.

The result left no doubt as to who was the best horse on the day. Away slowly as usual, Deep Impact trailed in the 11-runner field through the first mile of the 1 1/2-mile Grade 1 race, then followed the 8-1 Ouija Board as the pair made progress around the far turn. Heading into the 2 1/2-furlong stretch, Frankie Dettori angled Ouija Board in, leaving Yutaka Take with a clear wide run aboard Deep Impact, the 3-10 favorite.

Deep Impact responded with his trademark big finish, corralling the pacesetting Cosmo Bulk approaching the eighth pole and winning by two lengths over runner-up Dream Passport, who led briefly.

Ouija Board was a half-length farther back in third, with reigning Japanese Derby winner Meisho Samson sixth, and French invader Freedonia seventh. Heart's Cry, third in the early going as the 4-1 second choice, weakened to finish 10th, beaten 15 3/4 lengths.

Deep Impact's time was 2:25.10 on firm ground in a race run under a light drizzle. The clocking is three full seconds off the track mark for the distance, set in last year's Japan Cup by Alkaased.

The victory for Deep Impact, a Yasuo Ikee-trained 4-year-old son of Sunday Silence, was his 11th in 13 career starts and his sixth at the Grade 1 level. It also helped to ease the pain of his third-place finish in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Oct. 1, when Take tried using tracking tactics aboard Deep Impact, the 2005 Japanese Triple Crown winner, for the first time.

Having lost third-place Arc money after being disqualified for a drug positive, Deep Impact has now earned $11,284,771 during his storied career, well short of all-time leader and 2000 Japan Cup winner T.M. Opera O, who earned $16,200,137 while winning 14 of 26 starts.

Ikee thanked the 115,000 fans at Tokyo Racecourse for their loyalty.

"I am grateful to the fans who have stood by him," Ikee said. "Since the Arc we've been through a lot and it was a testing time for us, but seeing Deep Impact, who had no knowledge of what was happening around him, gave me the energy to carry on. Although the time remaining between Deep Impact and myself is very short, I will go on as always, doing my best to condition him up to his best for his finale in the Arima Kinen."

That 1 9/16-mile Grade 1 race is on Dec. 24 at Nakayama Racecourse, just east of Tokyo and where Deep Impact was beaten for the first time in his life and for the only time in his native Japan - by Heart's Cry in last year's Arima Kinen.

The Autumn Tenno Sho and Mile Championship winner Daiwa Major is expected to challenge Deep Impact that day, but a bet against Japan's favorite Thoroughbred could likely prove unwise.