Japan welcomes first-time Derby win by Japanese-owned horse

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The Kentucky Derby victory by a Japanese-owned horse was sweet for Japan's racing fans, but many said a win by an animal born and bred here would have been all the sweeter.

"Sure, I'm happy," said Tsuyoshi Yamada, 36, as he left a Tokyo betting shop. "But I'd be a whole lot happier if it had been a horse that had raced and proven itself in Japan."

The exuberant Fusaichi Pegasus lunged from behind Saturday to become the first horse with a Japanese owner to win the highly prestigious event.

A first-time contestant, the playful colt also did what many horses have been unable to do in the past several years - win the Derby as the betting favorite. The last horse to do that was Spectacular Bid in 1979.

Japanese racing officials were clearly impressed.

"To succeed on your first try, now that's tough," Teruyuki Imahara, executive director of the Japan Racing Association, the nation's largest horse-racing organization, said Monday.

The colt took the lead approaching the eighth pole and finished 1 1-2 lengths ahead of competitor Aptitude. The horse had been on the rail until he hit the stretch, but re-entered the pack down the backstretch.

Owned by Japanese software magnate Fusao Sekiguchi, Fusaichi Pegasus' dlrs 4 million pricetag made him the highest-priced horse ever to win the Derby.

The win was the biggest for a Japanese-owned horse since El Condor Pasa took second place last year in France's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

"Pegasus takes a historic flight," exclaimed Sports Nippon, a leading sports newspaper.

Owner Sekiguchi bought and trained the horse in the United States, and said he will likely continue racing the colt there.

"Fusaichi Pegasus is a treasure of the United States and I hope to keep him in the United States," Sekiguchi said after the race.

Other than fans' exuberance, the victory had no impact on Japanese racing, and many observers said they didn't consider the victory a homegrown win.

That didn't seem to bother Imahara.

"It was a perfect win," he said.

RESULT

1 Fusaichi Pegasus, Kent Desormeaux, Neil Drysdale, - 2 Aptitude, Alex Solis, Bobby Frankel, 1.5 lengths 3 Impeachment, Craig Perret, Todd Pletcher, 5.5 lengths 4 More Than Ready, John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher, 6 lengths 5 Wheelaway, Richard Migliore, John Kimmel, 6 lengths 6 China Visit, Frankie Dettori, Saeed bin Suroor, 9 lengths 7 Curule, Marlon St. Julien, Saeed bin Suroor, 9 lengths 8 Captain Steve, Robby Albarado, Bob Baffert, 13.5 lengths 9 War Chant, Jerry Bailey, Neil Drysdale, 14.25 lengths 10 Deputy Warlock, Mark Guidry, Kenneth McPeek, 18 lengths 11 Trippi, Jorge Chavez, Todd Pletcher, 18.5 lengths 12 Exchange Rate, Calvin Borel, D. Wayne Lukas, 19.5 lengths 13 Anees, Cory Nakatani, Alex Hassinger Jr., 20.25 lengths 14 The Deputy, Chris McCarron, Jenine Sahadi, 23 lengths 15 High Yield, Pat Day, D. Wayne Lukas, 23.75 lengths 16 Hal's Hope, Roger Velez, Harold Rose, 25.5 lengths 17 Commendable, Edgar Prado, D. Wayne Lukas, 26.75 18 Ronton, Brice Blanc, Vladimir Cerin, 30.25 19 Graeme Hall, Shane Sellers, Todd Pletcher, 82.75 lengths

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