11/26/2005 1:00AM

Kane Hekili prevails after stretch battle

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TOKYO - In a scintillating three-horse battle through the final furlong, Kane Hekili stuck his head down on the line for a well-deserved victory in the $2 million Japan Cup Dirt at Tokyo on Saturday.

Kane Hekili, a 3-year-old son of Sunday Silence, had been backed to 11-10 favoritism by the 56,261 fans in attendance. As they rose to cheer the occasion, Kane Hekili and his rider, Japanese star Yutaka Take, outgamed the Kentucky-breds Seeking the Dia and Star King Man to land the Japan Cup Dirt, an international Grade 1 event at 1 5/16 miles.

The two American-based horses on hand, however, could hardly join in the celebration as they both performed abysmally. Lava Man, sent off at 16-1, was fifth at the head of the stretch but weakened to finish 11th under Corey Nakatani, beaten 17 1/4 lengths. Meanwhile the 30-1 Tap Day and Eibar Coa were beaten on the turn for home. The Meadowlands Cup winner, Tap Day checked in 13th in the 16-runner field, 22 1/2 lengths behind the first three, who were separated by just a nose and a neck.

Take had made a shrewd choice of mounts, taking off the fourth-place Time Paradox, whom he had ridden to win last year's Japan Cup, to remain with Kane Hekili. The victory was also Take's 200th this year in Japan. It is the third time he has reached that mark, and he remains the only Japanese rider ever to have done so.

All three of the principals had the lead at one time or another inside the eighth pole. Kent Desormeaux was whipping for his life aboard Star King Man along the rail, at least until the final 50 yards when he let up on his mount, while Norohiro Yokoyoma on Seeking the Dia appeared to be the winner three strides from home. But Take prevailed, guiding Kane Hekili under the wire in 2:08.00, well off Kurofune's 2001 track record of 2:05.90.

"It was his first race against older horses at the Grade 1 level, so he certainly wasn't handed an easy time of it like in his previous races," Take said. "I dare say he has a lot to look forward to in his career."

Kane Hekili confirmed the promise he had shown when winning a pair of 1 1/4-mile Grade 1 contests - the Japan Dirt Derby by four lengths, and the Derby Grand Prix by 2 1/2 lengths. In his prep for Saturday's race, he had been dropped down to a Grade 2 mile against older horses by trainer Katsuhiko Sumii. Kane Hekili was second to Sunrise Bacchus that day, but the sharp mile had him on edge for this return to his favorite distance.

Series adds races in Dubai, Australia

With prize money and bonuses totaling $12.6 million, next year's Asian Mile Challenge has been expanded to four races in hopes of attracting the world's best milers.

The first Asian Mile Challenge last year consisted of the $1 million Champions Mile in Sha Tin, in which Bullish Luck defeated Silent Witness, and the $2 million Yasuda Kinen in Tokyo, won by Asakusa Den'en with Silent Witness a close third. In 2006 the series will add the Dubai Duty Free, newly enriched to $5 million, at 1 1/8 miles, and the $527,000 Futurity Stakes at Flemington in Melbourne.

A winner of all four races would receive a bonus of $4 million. Three wins would net an extra $2 million, while two victories would carry a bonus of $1 million.