TOKYO, Japan -- Alkaased held off a frantic late rush from Heart's Cry to land the 25th running of the $4 million Japan Cup on Sunday to redeem a season that had seen him miss intended dates in both the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and the Breeders' Cup Turf.
Once again it was racing's brightest star, Frankie Dettori, who secured the victory. In a manner similar to the 2002 Japan Cup when he brought Falbrav home a nose in front of Sarafan, Dettori kept Alkaased together at the climax. The margin was a nose again on Sunday, and the time of 2:22.10 established a new record for 1 1/2 miles on the Tokyo turf course, breaking Horlicks' 1989 Japan Cup mark by one-tenth of a second.
As in Saturday's Japan Cup Dirt, the two American challengers did little running. Better Talk Now, seeking the fourth Grade 1 victory of his career, lagged near the back of the 18-runner field early under Ramon Dominguez and eventually came home twelfth, beaten 8 lengths. King's Drama, trained by an absent Bobby Frankel, was fifth approaching the turn for home but caved in to finish sixteenth under Edgar Prado, 17 lengths behind Alkaased, in the midst of the Japanese no-hopers.
Dettori's charisma was one of the reasons that the Japanese bettors, 95,635 of them on-track, normally great favorites of locally-trained horses, sent Alkaased off as the 9.60-1 third choice behind the favored 11-10 defending champ Zenno Rob Roy, who nosed out Lincoln for third, and Heart's Cry, the second favorite at 6.20-1. Frankie virtually lifted Alkaased across the line when it appeared that Heart's Cry was about to corral him.
"We broke from 14 and he started slowly, but they went very fast up front, so I was able to drop down and save ground," Dettori said. "I was right behind Ouija Board and Bago and was able to follow them."
When he found a seam in traffic entering the stretch, Dettori brought Alkaased to lead at the 16th pole, soon after Ouija Board and then Lincoln had grabbed brief leads.
"I was confident I had won," Dettori continued, "but the JRA, unusual for them, didn't put the result up for what seemed like 20 minutes. They made me suffer and sweat for it!"
Lincoln was fourth and Ouija Board fifth, but Bago could manage only eighth, 4-1/2 lengths behind.
Alkaased, who was purchased by Monaco-based British financial consultant Michael Charlton for $350,000, had last won in June in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud. Bred in Kentucky by Clovelly Farms, the Kingmambo 5-year-old was purchased by Hamdan Al Maktoum before being bought by Charlton two years ago.
Heart's Cry was both gallant and a bit unlucky defeat as he had to change course in mid-stretch, impeding Ouija Board but surviving a stewards' inquiry over the incident.
Alkaased's Italian connection goes further than Dettori as he is trained by Luca Cumani, a man who had taken Dettori under his wing as a young novice rider.
"Frankie's father (Gianfranco) rode for my father (Sergio). I knew him before he knew I knew him," Cumani quipped. "I've forgotten how many group races we've won together, but I hope our relationship lasts for a long, long time."
Cumani said that missing the Breeder's Cup Turf proved to be a blessing in disguise for Alkaased, as it left him a fresher horse for the Japan Cup.
"There were disappointments along the way, but we stayed focused on the Japan," he said. "We devised a program where we got him very fit in Newmarket and just kept him ticking over here."
Owner Charlton expressed a desire to go on Sha Tin for the Hong Kong Vase on Dec. 11, but Cumani said that the next few days would determine Alkaased's immediate future. Italian trainers are the only ones to break a Japanese streak of six Japanese-trained Japan Cup winners in the last eight years, as Falbrav was trained by Luciano d'Auria before being turned over to Cumani. An American-bred horse owned by an Englishman, ridden and trained by Italians to win Japan's greatest race put an international cap to the conclusion of another extraodinary weekend of world class racing at Tokyo Racecourse.