05/30/2004 11:00PM

King Kamehameha wins


King Kamehameha put his name in the record books with an eye-catching performance in the Japanese Derby at Tokyo Racecourse on Sunday, winning by 1 1/2 lengths.

In winning the derby, at $3 million the richest race in the world for 3-year-olds, King Kamehameha covered 1 1/2 miles on turf in 2:23.30, setting a record for the 2-year-old Tokyo track and coming within 1.1 seconds of Horlicks's Japan Cup mark set on the old course. A son of Kingmambo bred in Japan by Northern Farm, King Kamehameha has now won 6 of his 7 lifetime starts for earnings of $4.1 million.

His victory, at 8-5 before 122,074 fans, is a triumph for trainer Kunihide Matsuda. On Feb. 29, Matsuda saddled King Kamehameha to win a 1 3/8-mile allowance. He then dropped him in distance to take the 1 1/4-mile Grade 3 Mainichi Hai on March 27, then dropped him in distance again to win the Grade 1 NHK Mile Cup on May 9.

The reverse route didn't faze King Kamahameha. He hit the front at the quarter pole, soon disposed of Higher Game, and had no trouble holding off the late challenge of the runner-up, Heart's Cry.

* Island Fashion, America's representative in next Sunday's one-mile Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen, arrived in Japan in good order early Friday morning.