Racing: Taiki Shuttle puts Japan on fast track

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IF, AS many have suggested, Japan becomes the major racing power, they will be able to trace back the story with archive footage entitled eight days which shook the equine world. Taiki Shuttle won the main event of a Gallic weekend yesterday, the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville, much the same as his compatriot, Seeking The Pearl, had done in Normandy last Sunday. Rather aptly, the world now seems to be the oyster for Japanese racing.

It may be salutary to note that while the Duc de Morny was perfecting Deauville, and its racecourse, as a swanky venue for the Parisian smart set in the early 1860s, Japan was still ruled by the shoguns.

The Land of the Rising Sun has changed considerably since then but, over a century on, Deauville is essentially the same. The proletariat may feel a little left out as they survey a resort of casinos, polo fields and golf courses. An accompaniment to this fine living has usually been a home sweep in the big races, but things are beginning to change. It's all becoming a little inscrutable.

Taiki Shuttle was sent off at a ludicrous price of 30-100 on the Pari- mutuel, largely, it is thought, because of the actions of the Japanese- American owner, Gary Tanaka. He is reported to have sunk 2m francs (about pounds 200,000) into a distorted pool. He should know better.

The Japanese horse, who has been billeted at Tony Clout's Lamorlaye yard, was not to know this, however. More pressing a problem for Taiki Shuttle was racing down a straight mile for the first time. This peculiarity unsettled him for the first two furlongs, and tested the strength of the wily old man of Japanese racing, Yukio Okabe.

The pulling was not entirely debilitating, however, and Taiki Shuttle still possessed something in reserve for the maelstrom of the final furlong. Godolphin's Cape Cross went by him, but his advantage was clawed back. Another British-based horse, Among Men, threatened in the closing stages, but he too was repelled. Taiki Shuttle won by half a length and a short- head from Among Men and Cape Cross.

"This win was brilliant for racing," Michael Tabor, the runner-up's owner, said. "You really cannot complain at the way Among Men has run here."

Taiki Shuttle, Japan's champion miler, has now won 10 of his 11 races and over pounds 2.37m in prizemoney. He has collected three Grade One races in his homeland and may now be on the prowl for further baubles outside his regular sphere. "This is one of my greatest racing days," Yushiki Akazawa, the winning owner, said. "This horse has a wonderful mental ability as well as strength. We are considering keeping Taiki Shuttle in France for the Prix du Moulin at Longchamp next month before going on to the Breeders' Cup and then a stud career in Japan."

Following Yutaka Take's reputation-restoring performance on Seeking The Pearl, this was another advertisement for the Fuchu weighing room. Okabe, who will be 50 this year, is a member of racing's old school, more a Duffield than a Dettori. He has partnered over 2,400 winners and refuses to answer questions about when he will hang up his riding boots and disappear into the rising sun.

It is probably not a point worth pushing all that much as the jockey has finished in the top 10 of his domestic championship for all but two years since 1973. He has also ridden 60 races in the United States and has landed the Japan Cup twice.

However, Okabe has never won the Prix Gontaut-Biron, which was undoubtedly a point Philip Mitchell would have been stressing in his Epsom local last night. Running Stag's victory in the Group Three contest earlier on Deauville's card was not only one of Mitchell's best results, it was also confirmation that Britain too can abuse French hospitality.

Running Stag, under the guidance of Ray Cochrane, swept clear for a three- length success over fellow Blighty travellers. The John Dunlop-trained Garuda was second, and Lord Of Men, who won this race for John Gosden 12 months ago, completed the frame. "Everything went perfectly today," Mitchell reported. Another little man was to repeat that sentiment later in the afternoon.