07/08/2005 12:00AM

Japanese ought to adjust their stakes restrictions

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Cesario became the first Japanese-bred racer to win a Grade 1 stakes in the United States with a smashing triumph in the American Oaks at Hollywood Park. Running 10 furlongs in 1:59.03, Cesario held off the previously unbeaten Melhor Ainda, who was the only filly to close on her through the stretch.

Although Cesario's trainer went on the record encouraging other Japanese owners to race in the States, there is not likely to be a stampede of Japanese-bred racehorses to courses in America, considering the extremely rich purses they can run for at home.

But the victories of Cesario and other high-quality Japanese-bred or -trained horses - such as Japan Cup winner Special Week, Prix Maurice de Gheest winner Seeking the Pearl, Peter Pan winner Sunday Break, and Prix Jacques le Marois winner Taiki Shuttle - over the past decade have clearly shown that Japanese racing is on a par with the U.S. and Europe. Even so, most stakes in Japan are closed to participants not owned by Japanese residents, and only the results of Japanese graded stakes are accepted as black type in sales catalogs.

If Japanese owners and breeders seek greater successes outside Japan, surely the country's own racing program will have to adjust its policies in accordance with other countries, allowing more imports and exports, and wider opportunities for racing there.

Such changes might prove essential for the continuing legacy of Japan's greatest stallion, Sunday Silence. Winner of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Breeders' Cup Classic during his 1989 Horse of the Year campaign in the United States, Sunday Silence towered like Mt. Fuji above his contemporaries in Japan, and last year, five offspring by Sunday Silence were named champions of their divisions in Japan.

Annually, Sunday Silence has been the most successful stallion in Japan, covering large books of premium mares and siring horses who won record sums and made their sire the most famous horse in Japan before his premature death in 2002.

Amid the national mourning over the loss of their racing icon, Japanese breeders had to wonder, "What can we do to replace him?"

And not surprisingly, breeders in Japan have turned increasingly to the sons of Sunday Silence. Among those with the best reputations in Japan are Cesario's sire, Special Week, along with major winners and champions like Agnes Tachyon, Fuji Kiseki, Neo Universe, and Dance in the Dark. And Sunday Silence, the great black son of Halo, has yet another star in this year's Japan Derby winner, Deep Impact.

Cesario's sire, Special Week, won the Japan Cup, the Japan Derby, and two runnings of the Tenno Sho (in the spring and the autumn in 1999). Special Week won 10 of his 17 starts and earned more than $9.3 million in three seasons on Japanese racecourses.

Special Week stayed very well, especially when running into a stiff pace like that in the Japan Cup, and he earned a place at Shadai Stallion Station, where he is one of several sons of Sunday Silence at stud.

Cesario, beaten only once in her six starts, is the stallion's first star. A black filly, she is from the second crop of Special Week and was bred in Japan by Northern Farm.

Cesario is out of Kirov Premiere, a daughter of Sadler's Wells who raced in Britain before she was exported to compete in America, where she won the Grade 3 Rutgers Handicap.

Bred in England, Kirov Premiere is a full sister to stakes winner Theatre Critic and a half-sister to stakes winner Quintillion. After Kirov Premiere had finished her racing career, Katsumi Yoshida purchased her for $280,000 at the 1994 Keeneland November sale.

The mare's first three foals were by Sunday Silence, and Cesario is the mare's seventh foal and first recognized stakes winner. Kirov Premiere's yearling is a filly by Fusaichi Pegasus.

Japanese breeders have a great reverence for family, and they seem generally more at home with horses who have deep families, especially from lines that have shown good form on turf. Perhaps they believe these lines offer more certain traits for racing the classic distances and performing well on turf. Certainly, they found the right lines to produce Cesario. A winner five times from her six starts, Cesario won the Japan Oaks this year before the American Oaks, and her family traces back four generations to Pia, winner of the Epsom Oaks in 1967.