Shigeo Takeda's 5-year-old homebred Inti (JPN), the 2.6-1 favorite under jockey Yutaka Take, controlled the pace throughout Sunday's 36th running of the one-mile, $1,879,000 February Stakes (G1) on dirt at Tokyo Racecourse in Japan, winning by a neck over second choice Gold Dream (JPN), and secured the first automatic berth into this year's $6-million Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) through the international Breeders' Cup Challenge.
The Breeders' Cup Challenge is an international series of stakes races whose winners receive automatic starting positions and fees paid into a corresponding race in the Breeders' Cup World Championships, which will be held this year at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif., on Nov. 1-2.
As a part of the benefits of the Challenge series, the Breeders' Cup will pay the pre-entry and entry fees for Inti to start in the 1 1/4-mile Breeders' Cup Classic, and will also provide a $40,000 travel allowance for all starters based outside of North America to compete in the World Championships. If not Breeders' Cup eligible, the Challenge winner must be nominated to the Breeders' Cup program by the pre-entry deadline of Oct. 21 to receive the rewards.
Inti, a chestnut son of 2002 Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Came Home, earned his first G1 score while defeating 13 rivals, including the last three winners of this race — Nonkono Yume (JPN), Gold Dream and Moanin — to increase his winning streak to seven races. Sunday's victory, before a crowd of 61,141, also was the fifth career February Stakes triumph for the renowned Take. Inti is trained by Kenji Nonaka.
While defending champion Nonkono Yume missed his break, the rest of the field of 4-year-olds and up broke smoothly with Inti sent to the lead to set the pace chased by Sunrise Soar (JPN) and Success Energy (JPN) in second and third, respectively. Take produced a perfect ride just off the rail driving Inti to victory while repelling a determined challenge from runner-up Gold Dream to land a neck win.
“The horse broke well and we were able to take the lead and set at an ideal pace,” said Take. “He was a bit too eager in the post parade and I was worried that he had used up his energy, but we secured a safe lead at the last turn and he showed amazing strength to the wire. He has so much potential, we have a lot to look forward to in his future starts.”
Inti, who came into Sunday's race off a G2 win in the Tokai TV Hai Tokai Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on Jan. 20 at Chukyo, completed the one mile over the left-handed course in 1:35.60. Overcoming issues concerning recovery from fatigue which forced him to limit his starts to three in both the 2017 and 2018 seasons, the lightly-raced Inti now boasts a record of seven wins out of eight starts, all on dirt.
After settling in mid-field, 2017 champion and last year's runner-up Gold Dream (3-1) shot out of the chasing group with a good burst of speed 300 meters out and threatened the leader with the fastest late charge but was a neck short in second. Eighth favorite Yuranoto (JPN) ran on the rails in mid-division right beside Gold Dream up to the final turn and found a narrow path to advance to third at the furlong marker but proved no match for the winner finishing four lengths from the runner-up in third. Moanin followed in fourth.
Under Nanako Fujita, who became the first Japanese female jockey to ride in a G1 event, fourth pick Copano Kicking trailed in the rear and lost ground going wide on both turns. The Spring At Last gelding showed the second fastest late drive but had too much ground to make up and finished a six-length fifth. “I am truly grateful to all who made it possible for me to ride in this race. I have experienced this course numerous times before but today, everything looked totally different,” commented Fujita after the race.
Unable to overcome his poor start, Nonkono Yume finished 13th.
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