Shonan Pandora escapes the box, inflicts heartbreak on Last Impact in Japan Cup

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November 29th, 2015

Tetsuhide Kunimoto’s Shonan Pandora weaved her way through traffic in the stretch to mug the rail-hugging Last Impact at the wire in Sunday’s Japan Cup (G1), in a one-two finish for their great sire Deep Impact. Both collared 8-5 favorite Lovely Day in deep stretch, relegating him to a close third. Erupt fared best of the internationals in sixth.

Aside from extending Japanese dominance of this race to a 10th straight year, the result reinforced another trend: distaffers have now won five of the last seven editions. That statistic really should be six, but for the unfortunate disqualification of the clear-cut winner Buena Vista in 2010. Buena Vista made good the following year, emulating Vodka’s success in 2009. Gentildonna earned back-to-back Japan Cups in 2012-13, topping a Deep Impact exacta over Denim and Ruby in her repeat. Indeed, the only male to cross the wire first in this span was Epiphaneia a year ago.

Shonan Pandora and Last Impact were turning the tables on Lovely Day, who’d beaten them in the most informative prep, the November 1 Tenno Sho Autumn (G1) over this Tokyo course. But the stretch-out from 1 1/4 miles to the 1 1/2 miles of the Japan Cup may have been the key to a form reversal. Also, Shonan Pandora coped much better with post 15 than she had done last time, and Last Impact, who was compromised by colliding with the rail in the Tenno Sho Autumn, had no such fracas with new rider Ryan Moore.

Trained by Tomokazu Takano and ridden by Kenichi Ikezoe, Shonan Pandora was reserved a little past the midpack point in the early stages. As Curren Mirotic bounded to the lead, the handwriting was already on the wall for German shipper Ito. Never appearing comfortable after failing to get to the front, Ito was embroiled in scrimmaging entering the first turn, and ultimately retreated to last.

Current Mirotic continued to show the way well into the stretch, when Lovely Day pounced in his bid for glory. The favorite’s grasp was tenuous, however, and several others were looming into the fray. Last Impact speared through on the fence and appeared to have made the winning move.

Yet Shonan Pandora, who had been traveling well in the midst of foes, found a seam in the nick of time. Accelerating wide out in the final yards, she thrust her neck in front of Last Impact and clocked 2:24.7 on the firm turf.

Lovely Day was another neck back in third. The top three had more than a length or so to spare over the blanket finish behind them. Rank outsider Jungle Cruise stormed late for fourth, edging Sounds of Earth. Next in the heap across the line were Erupt, One and Only, Mikki Queen, Derby Fizz, Gold Ship, Germany’s Nightflower, Shonan Bach, Hit the Target, Great Britain’s Trip to Paris and Curren Mirotic. There was more of a gap to Admire Deus, Pelusa, and the distanced Ito.

Shonan Pandora was racking up her second Grade 1 title, after last year’s Shuka Sho (G1), the final jewel of Japan’s Fillies’ Triple Crown. Facing males this season, the bay was third to Lovely Day in the June 28 Takarazuka Kinen (G1) and returned three months later to take the Sankei Sho All Comers (G2). As a measure of the depth of that race, fifth-placer Marialite and runner-up Nuovo Record came back to run one-two in the November 15 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1). Shonan Pandora prepped for the Japan Cup in the Tenno Sho Autumn, where she rattled late for fourth.

Although the Japan Cup marked her first try at 1 1/2 miles, Shonan Pandora had the pedigree for it. She is bred along similar lines to Group 1 star Stay Gold, who has sired the likes of Orfevre and Gold Ship. Stay Gold’s parents are Shonan Pandora’s paternal grandsire (Sunday Silence) and second dam (Golden Sash, a full sister to two-time Japanese champion Soccer Boy). This is also the family of Dream Passport, second to Deep Impact in the 2006 Japan Cup, and current globetrotter Fame Game, runner-up in the Tenno Sho Spring (G1) but unplaced in his last pair in the Caulfield Cup (G1) and Melbourne Cup (G1).

Quotes courtesy of Japan Racing Association

Tomokazu Takano, trainer of Shonan Pandora:

I am overwhelmed with delight and lost for words. I am usually known to be relatively calm at the races but today, I was screaming in the last 200 meters and my hands and legs were shaking.

She was in great condition in her last start (the Tenno Sho (Autumn)) and I was just hoping to be able to keep that up to this race, but watching her movement in the paddock, and her bold body, I was certain that she would give a great performance.

A sharp break to secure good position from the outside stall was the key in this race -- she accelerated pretty well to the first corner and wasn’t too far to the outside in the trip -- then coming out of a narrow path at the stretch and rallying with Lovely Day, I knew that she would give a good fight to the wire.

I have never known such a flexible hindquarters and shoulders, probably handed down from her sire, which enable her to have dynamic strides despite her small build. And she has such an independent character. She gives her all in every race, and we have taken each race at the time -- even the Japan Cup was not in our minds until we’d seen how she had recovered after the Tenno Sho (Autumn) -- so the possibility to run in the coming Arima Kinen (G1) will not even be discussed until we see how she is when we return to Ritto. She’s a small filly and still has a lot of races within Japan to prove her ability, so the choice to race abroad is there but not under consideration yet until I have talked with the owner.

Winning rider Kenichi Ikezoe:

Starting from an outside stall -- perhaps God was testing me to see how I’d do this time out -- I rated her behind Lovely Day in midpack. I made sure I didn’t go too far out and lose much ground. When Gold Ship start to make his move along the outside, everybody started to rush forward for their position in the straight. I was thinking “inside” and in the stretch when our path narrowed in front of us, I was praying that she would squeeze out, which she did, and she responded really well. I was sure we had Lovely Day nailed but there was another horse inside of us which I prayed we’d crossed the wire first.


Photo copyright, and courtesy of, Japan Racing Association.