The top performer on last year’s Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby, Cafe Pharoah earned another gilt-edged U.S. invitation – this time for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) – by landing the “Win and You’re In” February S. (G1) at Tokyo Sunday.
The Kentucky-bred son of American Pharoah was registering his first Grade 1 win, ironically on the same card as the Hyacinth that launched him to Japan Road stardom in 2020. Cafe Pharoah has yet to race outside Japan, and it remains to be seen if the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar would be on his agenda.
Trained by Noriyuki Hori for Koichi Nishikawa, Cafe Pharoah was coming off a sixth in the Dec. 6 Champions Cup (G1). The four-year-old responded to the addition of cheekpieces here, and rewarded the Japanese faithful who accorded him 2.30-1 favoritism.
Cafe Pharoah secured perfect early position from post 3, as jockey Christophe Lemaire settled him among the stalkers. Wide Pharaoh (no relation) hustled to the lead from the rail-drawn Air Almas, who began to get the upper hand turning into the stretch. By that point, Cafe Pharoah had glided into sole third and had aim on new leader Air Almas.
Lemaire still didn’t set him down until midstretch, and Cafe Pharoah delivered the coup de grace when asked. The move was timed just right, for the 27-1 Air Spinel was about to unleash his bold rally. But Cafe Pharoah had gotten the decisive jump, prevailing by three-quarters of a length in a swift 1:34.4 for the metric mile.
Wonder Lider closed on the inside for third, followed by Red le Zele, a tiring Air Almas, 2019 February winner Inti, Mutually, Solise Thunder, Arctos, Yamanin Imprime, Sunrise Nova, Smart Dandy, Auvergne, Wide Pharaoh, Success Energy, and Helios.
Adding to his personal achievement, Cafe Pharoah was handing American Pharoah his first dirt Grade 1 win as a sire. Last fall, he celebrated two Group 1 stars on turf, Harvey’s Lil Goil in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) and Van Gogh in the Criterium International (G1) at Saint-Cloud.
“His condition was super, and I had confidence already at the paddock,” Lemaire said. “We decided to use cheekpieces hoping for a more aggressive performance. His start was good, we were positioned well, and he responded beautifully.
“The colt has such high potential. I had no doubt that he could land a Grade 1 win if he gave his best. I’m happy that it all worked out today.”
Lemaire was crowning a four-win day in the approximately $2 million feature. His other scores came aboard three-year-olds Gran Paradiso (dirt maiden), X Impact (turf maiden), and most notably, Triple Crown nominee La Perouse in the renewal of the Hyacinth.
Cafe Pharoah is now 5-for-7 lifetime. After his last-to-first heroics in the 2020 Hyacinth, the bay clinched the Japan Road title in the Unicorn (G3), an ad hoc addition to the series in light of the pandemic-delayed Kentucky Derby. Hopes that Cafe Pharoah might travel to Churchill Downs were dashed when he was a subpar seventh in last July’s Japan Dirt Derby at Oi. He rebounded versus elders in the Oct. 3 Sirius (G3) at Chukyo, only to wind up sixth in the aforementioned Champions Cup. The cheekpieces might be the key to him going forward.
Bred by the late Paul Pompa, Cafe Pharoah is out of Grade 2 winner Mary’s Follies, a More Than Ready mare who is also responsible for Grade 2 vixen Regal Glory and multiple Grade 3 scorer Night Prowler. The 15-year-old Mary’s Follies was recently sold to BBA Ireland for $500,000 from the Pompa estate’s dispersal at Keeneland January, where daughter Regal Glory went to Peter Brant’s White Birch Farm for $925,000. Cafe Pharoah himself had commanded $475,000 as a juvenile at OBS March in 2019.
Until we learn more regarding his Breeders’ Cup status, note that Cafe Pharoah was made eligible for the Mar. 27 Dubai World Cup (G1). That could be a sign of connections’ interest in pursuing international prizes.