03/29/2014 2:01PM

Sheema Classic: Gentildonna overcomes traffic trouble to score

Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins
The Japanese mare Gentildonna (left) draws clear in deep stretch under Ryan Moore in the $5 million Sheema Classic.

Gentildonna, the Japanese mare who finished second in the 2013 Sheema Classic, was extricated from stretch traffic in the nick of time by jockey Ryan Moore and beat 2012 Sheema winner Cirrus des Aigles by 1 1/2  lengths in the $5 million Sheema Classic on Saturday night at Meydan Racecourse.

Gentildonna’s victory came one race after another Japanese horse, Just A Way, easily won the $5 million Dubai Duty Free, giving the Japanese a sweep of the major turf races on the card. Just A Way had beaten Gentildonna by four lengths last fall in the Tenno Sho at Tokyo Racecourse.

Gentildonna was slightly favored to win the 2013 Sheema Classic over St. Nicholas Abbey, but came to the race without a start in four months, and never seemed to fully settle into her surroundings. This time, trainer Sei Ishizaka prepped Gentildonna for the Sheema in a Feb. 19 stakes race in Kyoto; Gentildonna finished only sixth, but the race served its purpose.

Gentildonna’s was more dominant than her sheer margin of victory. Breaking from post 12 and racing near the back of the field in the early portion of the 1 1/2-mile grass race, Gentildonna and Moore picked their way toward mid-pack during the backstretch run, and came into the homestretch ready to pounce from just behind the lead group. But Moore, seeking room, found none probing to the outside, and an inside seam he then sought closed when Christophe Soumillon on Cirrus des Aigles held Gentildonna in. Moore snatched the reins, steered hard to the outside coming across a row of horses behind him, and managed to get into the clear with Gentildonna, who proceeded to mow down Cirrus des Aigles despite the trouble.

“It was a very roughly run race early on,” said Moore. “She’s obviously exceptionally talented. She did more than I expected her to do today.”

Gentildonna paid $8.60 to win in North American wagering pools, and was timed in 2:27.25 over fast-playing turf rated good.  Ambivalent, a 67-1 outsider, finished third. Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Magician was sixth, and U.S.-based Twilight Eclipse 12th.

Gentildonna, by Deep Impact, won for the ninth time in 15 races and now has earned more than $15 million during a career spanning four calendar years.

The race was marred by the death of Mars, who suffered a heart attack early in the race. Mars careened to the outside around the first turn, going through an outside rail, but jockey Richard Hughes reportedly escaped serious injury.