11/24/2001 1:00AM

A romp, record in Japan Cup Dirt


Kurofune, a full brother to top U.S. juvenile filly Bella Bellucci, was the runaway winner Saturday of the $2 million Japan Cup Dirt at Tokyo Racecourse. He set a course record time for the 1 5/16-mile Grade 1, finishing seven lengths in front of last year's winner, Wing Arrow, with Miracle Opera another half-length back in third.

The leading American challenger of the three U.S.-based horses in the race, Lido Palace, could do no better than eighth, 13 1/2 lengths behind the winner.

The other Americans, Dig for It and Generous Rosi, jumped to the lead together in the early running, but in the end faded to ninth and 11th.

Jockey Yutaka Take kept Kurofune in 12th place among the 16 starters for much of the first mile, with Wing Arrow right behind. The two began to advance with a quarter-mile to go, but Wing Arrow didn't have the run of Kurofune. Take, riding in third going into the final turn, took his mount wide with three furlongs to go, and once he urged him down the stretch, no one was about to catch him. Sent off the 7-10 favorite, Kurofune finished in 2:05.90.

Lido Palace, with Jerry Bailey aboard, was well-placed in seventh in the race's early stages. Bailey hustled his mount forward around the final turn, but Lido Palace seemed to have no finishing kick in the final furlong.

Afterward, Bailey said, "The winner came by and I have no excuses."

Gary Stevens, who made the trip to ride Generous Rosi, said, "The winner was just awesome."

A son of French Deputy out of Blue Avenue, Kurofune is the first Japanese horse to have won Grade 1 races on both dirt and turf, as he won the NHK Mile Cup in May. He also had been victorious in his lone start on dirt before Saturday, dominating the Grade 3 Musashino Stakes by nine lengths a month ago in course-record time.

Kurofune might not have started in the Japan Cup Dirt if not for his place of birth. After the Musashino, the Kentucky-bred Kurofune had been pointed for the Grade 1 Tenno Sho-Autumn, run on grass Oct. 28, but was the third foreign-bred nominated to that race, which is restricted to two. Shut out there, the Japan Cup Dirt became his obvious next target.

Kurofune will now be aimed at next spring's Dubai World Cup.