11/30/2009 1:00AM

Vodka triumphs in Japan Cup


Vodka reached the peak of her brilliant career at Tokyo on Sunday when she gamely held on to win the $5.5 million Japan Cup by a nose from the fast-closing Oken Bruce Lee. In equaling the all-time Japanese record of seven Grade 1 victories, the 5-year-old mare beat two-time Breeders Cup Turf winner Conduit into fourth place as the three American runners, Just as Well, Interpatation and Marsh Side all finished unplaced.

The decision in favor of Vodka was made only after a lengthy study of the photo by the stewards, who finally awarded her the race. Being ridden for the first time by Frenchman Christophe Lemaire, Vodka burst into the lead from between horses at the three-sixteenths pole but looked vulnerable to the late charge of Oken Bruce Lee. She held on grimly however, rewarding her many backers as the 2.60-1 favorite. The 3-year-old filly Red Desire was third, beaten 1 1/2 lengths, 1 1/4 lengths in front of Conduit, who was sent off as the 3.90-1 third choice behind the 3.70-1 Oken Bruce Lee. The winning time for the 1 1/2 miles on firm ground was a swift 2:22.40, just .3 of a second off the track record set by Alkaased in the 2005 Japan Cup.

Away slowly, Conduit languished in thirteenth place in the 18-runner field until making his move at the head of the 2 1/2-furlong stretch. He met with traffic trouble, however, but never showed the sparkle that had enabled him to win four Group or Grade 1 races. He was, perhaps, fatigued from the arduous journey imposed upon him by trainer Michael Stoute, who sent him back to England after his latest Breeders' Cup Turf victory before sending him on to Japan.

The 46.10-1 Just as Well made up some late ground despite being in tight on the turn to finish seventh under Julien Leparoux, five lengths behind Vodka. Interpatation was near the rear throughout under David Cohen at 88.50-1, checking in 13 1/4 lengths behind in a deadheat for fourteenth. Marsh Side raced wide throughout with Javier Castellano aboard and came home next-to-last at 32-1, beaten 18 3/4 lengths.

The winner of the Japanese Derby in 2007, Vodka had won a pair of Grade 1 miles earlier this spring before finishing second and third behind Company going 1 1/8 miles and 1 1/4 miles more recently. She now stands equal with Symboli Rudolf, T.M. Opera O, and Deep Impact with seven Grade 1 triumphs. Trained by Katsuhiko Sumii for Yuzo Tanimizu, Vodka was bred in Japan by Country Bokujo. Tanimizu was uncertain whether Vodka would race again - the 1 9/16-mile Arima Kinen at Nakayama on Dec. 27 is a possibility - or be retired. A daughter of the Brian s Time stallion Tanino Gimlet and the Rousillon mare Tanino Sister, she has won eight of 22 starts to date for earnings of $13,084,360.

As for Conduit, the 4-year-old son of Dalakhani will remain in Japan to stand at stud at Shigeyuki Okada's Big Red Farm. He retires with seven victories in 15 starts and earnings of $5,807,757.