One of the storylines going into Saturday’s $12 million Dubai World Cup (G1) was which of the eight-strong team from Japan would fare best. The answer was the up-and-coming star of the Japanese dirt division, Ushba Tesoro. Producing an explosive last-to-first move, the Noboru Takagi trainee blew past Algiers by 2 3/4 lengths to rack up his fifth straight win.
The other key World Cup storyline, surrounding defending champion Country Grammer and jockey Frankie Dettori, didn’t have a fairy tale ending. Country Grammer, the 2-1 favorite, tired to seventh in Dettori’s last World Cup ride, but the renowned reinsman did celebrate an historic win aboard three-peating Lord North in the Dubai Turf (G1).
Ryotokuji Kenji Holdings Co.’s Ushba Tesoro had already scooped major wins at home in his past two, the Dec. 29 Tokyo Daishoten (G1) and Feb. 1 Kawasaki Kinen. And the prospect of a punishing tempo from his Saudi Cup (G1)-winning compatriot, Panthalassa, figured to play to his strengths at this about 1 1/4-mile trip. Aside from the overall depth of the race, the question was whether Ushba Tesoro would bring his “A” game to Dubai, especially given his aversion to heat.
Ushba Tesoro was the one burning his rivals under the lights on World Cup night. The son of Orfevre, who also sired Japan’s 2021 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) winner Marche Lorraine, was patiently handled by new rider Yuga Kawada as the expected pace war unfolded ahead of him.
Remorse was bustled from the rail, Panthalassa sped from the far outside post 15, and the two duked it out. Bendoog crept forward from his stalking spot to threaten on the far turn, but his move was readily covered by Algiers. Country Grammer was not moving with his characteristic verve by that stage, and it was apparent that he would not retain his crown.
Algiers, the 5-2 second choice, appeared to have the race at his mercy swinging for home. The pacesetters were done, and he had the measure of Bendoog upon straightening. Just when Algiers struck the front by daylight, Ushba Tesoro was suddenly rocketing on the outside.
The disparity of the momentum between Ushba Tesoro, who might as well have been shot out of a cannon, and Algiers was striking. There was simply too much stretch left for Algiers to try to fend him off. T O Keynes also rallied with interest on the inside, and last year’s Saudi Cup upsetter, Emblem Road, burst into contention too late. Ushba Tesoro was long gone in 2:03.25, rewarding his bettors with $28.30.
Algiers bravely salvaged second by a short head from Emblem Road. T O Keynes checked in another three-quarters of a length adrift, and a further four lengths back came fellow Japanese runner Crown Pride. Bendoog weakened to sixth, trailed by Country Grammer, Salute the Soldier, Remorse, Panthalassa, Geoglyph, Cafe Pharoah, Vela Azul, Super Corinto, and the tailed-off Jun Light Bolt.
Ushba Tesoro sports a sterling 7-6-0-1 mark since switching to dirt, with an overall line of 29-9-1-5 and more than $9.2 million in earnings. Interestingly, connections are looking to revert to turf, on a mission to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) that so agonizingly eluded sire Orfevre.
“This was a complete team effort,” a Ryotokuji Kenji representative said, “and the victory is for the effort of every individual in this team.
“This was the first win abroad for our syndicate and now we’ve opened our doors to the global stage we will look again. The owners expressed an interest in going for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe if we won this today.”
Kawada, savoring his win on the world stage as Japan’s leading rider, took confidence from Ushba Tesoro’s morning trackwork at Meydan.
“It was his first time running overseas, and there were queries on whether he’d travel as well as the fact it was his first time on the surface,” Kawada said. “He was training quite well over here this week, and I knew the horse was in good condition, so it was just a matter of the horse keeping his head in the race and he did that very well today.”
“Everything went as planned,” Takagi said. “Actually when he first got here he was actually quite nervous and a bit toey, but that was expected, and as the days went by he gradually got used to his environment and ran a great race. This is by far the greatest honor of my career.
“We will go back to Japan as he’s a bit vulnerable in hot weather and heat,” his trainer added. “We’ll see how he is over the summer and come up with a plan for him.”
Algiers’s co-trainer, Ed Crisford, paid tribute to his massive effort in defeat.
“He ran with great credit,” Crisford said. “James (Doyle) gave him a beautiful ride. He jumped well and turning in I thought we had it in the bag, but the last furlong he was just treading water a bit. Probably just got outstayed with the tempo of the race, but huge credit to the horse and my team at home and we should be proud. He ran his race there if not better.”
Emblem Road’s connections were left pondering what might have been if he’d gotten clear sooner, but he’ll likely get a chance at the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
“He ran an amazing race,” said Saad Abdulwahid, assistant to his father, Abdul Abdulwahid. “We were just trapped for too long. Once he was in the clear, he came flying. We will point to the Breeders’ Cup Classic now.”
Dettori believed that Country Grammer was regressing from his second in the Saudi Cup.
“He ran so big in Saudi Arabia, and I was never going today. I pushed him, but he felt lethargic. When they run so big, sometimes they take longer to recover than you think.”
“At least I got one (win on Lord North). I’m going to have a nice cold drink now.”
Panthalassa’s trainer, Yoshito Yahagi, knew that it would be a challenge from his post.
“The draw was difficult and they are two tough races (the Saudi and World Cups),” Yahagi said. “The race was unbelievable, crazy.”
Ushba Tesoro’s race was unbelievable in a good way, completing a Japanese hat trick on the night. After Derma Sotogake in the UAE Derby (G2) and superstar Equinox in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1). We’ll be seeing a lot more of this trio on the international scene.