Kazumasa Yamada’s Nonkono Yume has rediscovered his taste for winning. After snapping a more than two-year losing skid in the January 28 Negishi (G3), the whirlwind closer made it two in a row by collaring defending champion Gold Dream in Sunday’s $1.964 million February S. (G1) back at Tokyo. His first JRA Grade 1 coup included an extra perk, a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs.
That breakthrough appeared to be in the offing for Nonkono Yume a long time ago. A budding star at three, he went on a four-race winning spree highlighted by the 2015 Japan Dirt Derby, Unicorn (G3), and the Musashino (G3), followed by runner-up efforts in the Champions Cup (G1) and the 2016 February. But then Nonkono Yume struggled, placing just once from his next eight starts between the summer of 2016 and last fall.
So what caused the turnaround? His change of fortunes coincided precisely with the rider change to Hiroyuki Uchida, who conjures up the greatest response from this come-from-the-clouds artist. They clicked immediately in the Negishi, where Nonkono Yume got up to rob Sunrise Nova in a record time of 1:21.50 for about seven furlongs at Tokyo. And they did it again against a deeper cast in the February.
Favored Gold Dream got off a beat slow and found himself as far back as Nonkono Yume in the initial stage. Meanwhile, the sprinter Nishiken Mononofu dashed forward until his stamina emptied in the stretch. The prompting K T Brave then took up the baton, but fellow stalker T M Jinsoku, the second choice, soon floundered and beat a retreat.
By that point, Ryan Moore had unleashed Gold Dream, who rallied down the center of the track and looked poised to repeat. Incantation also closed just to his inside, and the mare Let’s Go Donki made eye-catching progress on the rail.
But on the far outside, Nonkono Yume was kicking into gear. Having followed Gold Dream’s circling move on the far turn, the gelded son of Twining was on the premises and gaining with every stride. Gold Dream began to stall, and as Nonkono Yume bore down, even Incantation was becoming more perilous as they neared the wire.
Nonkono Yume, the 9-1 fourth choice, prevailed by a neck from Gold Dream, in a final time of 1:36.0 for the metric mile. Incantation was another neck away in third, just failing to duplicate his runner-up performance in the 2015 February. The top three pulled clear of the rest, led by Sunrise Nova. Let’s Go Donki flattened out late in fifth. K T Brave and T M Jinsoku tired to 11th and 12th, and Nishiken Mononofu trailed in the 16-horse field.
“The staff tuned him up beautifully and he was in very good form,” Uchida said. “I kept him wide and in good striking position so that he could unleash his good late charge at any point, which is probably the reason why we were able to win today.”
Nonkono Yume handed trainer Yukihiro Kato his first JRA Grade 1, although he’d struck internationally with Shadow Gate in the 2007 Singapore Airlines International Cup (G1). His Japan Dirt Derby win at Ohi counted as a local Grade 1 on the NAR circuit.
If his Breeders’ Cup status is undetermined at present, a nearer-term international venture could be in the cards. Nonkono Yume is nominated to the Dubai World Cup (G1) and the Godolphin Mile (G2) on the March 31 undercard. Gold Dream, last behind Arrogate in the 2017 World Cup, holds a return engagement too. So there’s a possibility of a February rematch at Meydan.
The Shadai Farm-bred Nonkono Yume is a six-year-old gelding by the Forty Niner stallion Twining. His dam, the winning Agnes Tachyon mare Nonko, hails from the family of Japanese champion and noted sire Heart’s Cry.