For the second straight year, Cafe Pharoah found Sunday’s $2.2 million February S. (G1) a sweet rebound spot after disappointing in the Champions Cup (G1) at Chukyo. A horse-for-the-course around Tokyo, the son of American Pharoah equaled the track record for the metric mile while setting a new stakes mark in 1:33.8.
Cafe Pharoah, just the second horse to repeat in the February following Copano Rickey (2014-15), was earning a free ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland. But considering that the Noriyuki Hori trainee is a perfect 4-for-4 at Tokyo, compared to 2-for-7 elsewhere in Japan, it’s an open question whether he can take his game to the international stage.
The 4.10-1 second choice in his title defense, Cafe Pharoah was piloted for the first time by Yuichi Fukunaga, who recently returned from injuries sustained in the Dec. 12 Hong Kong Sprint (G1). Fukunaga has gotten acquainted with the five-year-old in morning training, and the team clicked on raceday.
Cafe Pharoah secured a good spot within ready striking distance of the pace. T M South Dan sped to grab the early lead from Sunrise Hope on the muddy track. Champion filly Sodashi used her tactical speed to improve into a chasing second, and Cafe Pharoah was soon creeping closer to her flank on the turn. Sodashi couldn’t quicken enough to peg back T M South Dan down the stretch, but Cafe Pharoah uncorked a final 600 meters in a blistering :34.3 to surge 2 1/2 lengths clear.
“Mr. Hori and I went over the tactics before the race,” Fukunaga told the Japan Racing Association, “and everything went as planned. Cafe Pharoah’s start wasn’t that sharp but he recovered well and we were able to sit in a good position, in third, where he didn’t have to bear too much sand in his face, which was what I was hoping for.
“After that I just tried to keep him focused especially after taking over the lead in the final stages. I’m grateful to the connections who offered me this ride even before I had fully recovered from the fall in Hong Kong and am happy that I was able to do a good job.”
T M South Dan retained second by a half-length from Sodashi. The charismatic white filly performed much better than in her dirt debut in the Dec. 5 Champions Cup, where she retreated to 12th, one place behind Cafe Pharoah.
Soliste Thunder got up for fourth, followed by Time Flyer; 2.90-1 favorite Red le Zele; Arctos; Sunrise Nova; Air Spinel; Mutually; Inti, winless since the 2019 February; Sunrise Hope, who remained in a handy position until tiring in the lane; Suave Aramis; Teorema; Daiwa Cagney; and K T Brave.
Kocihi Nishikawa’s Cafe Pharoah has now won five stakes, four at this track and trip. The first two, the 2020 Hyacinth S. and Unicorn (G3), came on a pandemic-prolonged Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby. The bay lost his perfect mark when seventh in the Japan Dirt Derby, but regained the winning thread in that fall’s Sirius (G3) at Chukyo.
Sixth in the 2020 Champions Cup at the same venue, Cafe Pharoah was happier back at Tokyo in the 2021 February. But he’d been unplaced in his three ensuing starts, in the May 5 Kashiwa Kinen at Funabashi, the July 18 Hakodate Kinen (G3) on turf, and the latest renewal of the Champions Cup.
Bred by the late Paul Pompa in Kentucky, Cafe Pharoah was sold for $475,000 as an OBS March juvenile. He is a half-brother to Grade 1-winning millionaire Regal Glory, most recently successful in the Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G3), and multiple Grade 3 scorer Night Prowler, all out of Grade 2 star Mary’s Follies, by More Than Ready.
The aforementioned Hyacinth was again contested on the February S. undercard, and Combustion advanced his potential Derby hopes with a strong rally up the rail in a stakes-record 1:35.3.
The Godolphin homebred was scoring his first stakes win after runner-up efforts in the Hyogo Junior Grand Prix and Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun. The latter finish was good for eight points on the Japan Road, and Combustion would add 30 points from the Hyacinth, but he’s not nominated to the Triple Crown. The Mar. 26 UAE Derby (G2) is reportedly on the radar as a target.
Geraldo Barows, third in the Nov. 27 Cattleya S. on the Japan Road, once more did his best work late and missed by a neck in the Hyacinth. With 12 points on Sunday plus two from the Cattleya, Geraldo Barows’ 14-point total leads the Japan-based Triple Crown nominees.
Early leader Sea Vixen wound up third, worth six points if she were nominated, and Triple Crown nominee El Paso banked three points in fourth.
One scoring opportunity remains on the Japan Road, the Mar. 26 Fukuryu S. at Nakayama, with the most points (40-16-8-4) on the line.