12/09/2008 1:00AM

Kane Hekili captures second Japan Cup Dirt


Kane Hekili became the first horse to win the Japan Cup Dirt twice as he held on gamely for a head victory Sunday in the ninth running of the Grade 1, $2.7 million contest at Hanshin . In what proved to be yet another fruitless trip to the Far East for the American contenders, Frost Giant finished 12th in the 1 1/8-mile race and Tin Cup Chalice 13th after Mast Track had been scratched on Sunday morning due to lameness in his shoulder.

Kane Hekili's victory is rather astounding as it was just his second race following a 2 1/2-year absence forced by injury. Ridden by Frenchman Christophe Lemaire for trainer Katsuhiko Sumii, the 6-year-old son of Fuji Kiseki rated kindly in sixth before swooping to the lead at the eighth pole, holding off Meisho Tokon with defending title holder and 6-5 favorite Vermilion third, a neck behind the runner-up. Frost Giant faded from midpack under Cornelio Velasquez to 12th, beaten 13 1/4 lengths. The Edgar Prado-ridden Tin Cup Chalice led for the first half-mile before gradually weakening back to 13th, a neck behind Frost Giant. Casino Drive, making his first start since finshing last in the Breeders' Cup Classic, came home sixth, just under three lengths behind the winner.

Sent off at 8-1, Kane Hekili was timed in 1:49.20 for the 1 1/8 miles on a fast track. He had finished ninth in his long-awaited return to the races in the Grade 3 Musashino Stakes on Nov. 8. Fourth in the 2006 Dubai World Cup behind Electrocutionist, he would appear to be a prime candidate for that race next year after an attempt at a second February Stakes crown. Bred by Northern Farm, he has now won 9 of 16 career starts. He had won the Japan Cup Dirt by a desperate nose under Yutaka Take in 2005 when it was run at 1 5/16 miles at Tokyo, and was no less game this time around.

The Americans, who were running without the aid of race-day medication, really had no excuses. Of the Rick Dutrow Jr.-trained Frost Giant, Velasquez said: "He was quite nervous in the paddock and never settled down, jumping repeatedly in the gate. I was unable to control him throughout the race."

Prado said that he "wanted to race Tin Cup Chalice just off the pace, but we had to go to the front as there was no one else willing to take the lead. The surface was deep but he didn't seem to mind."

* Prado had no luck in the World Super Jockeys Series, a four-race international jockey challenge run at Hanshin on Saturday and Sunday. Unplaced on all four of his mounts, he finished in a tie for 14th and last in a competition won by the French-based Ioritz Mendizabal, who outpointed Hong Kong-based South African Doug Whyte, 45-42, garnering two seconds and a third from his four rides.

Alan Garcia provided the only bright note of the weekend for the Americans, winning the second race of the contest on Saturday, the 1 1/8-mile Golden Spur Trophy, coming from last to first aboard Clean for a 1 1/4-length victory at odds of 7-1. Garcia was unplaced in his other three rides, however, and finished 11th in the contest overall.