DUBAI // Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid punched the air in delight last night when Victoire Pisa led home a Japan one-two finish in the US$10 million (Dh36.7m) Dubai World Cup amid emotional scenes at Meydan Racecourse.
The Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai is rarely demonstrative even when his own horses win major races. The fact that he was so effusive when an international raider swooped to win on his home soil is indicative of the strength of feeling this week towards the Japan camp, who were representing a country ravaged by earthquakes and a tsunami earlier this month.
Victoire Pisa, trained by Kutsuhiko Sumii and ridden by Italian jockey Mirco Demuro, finished ahead of Takayuki Yasuda's Transcend, the leader throughout most of the race who ended up half-a-length behind.
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Sheikh Mohammed's own horse, Monterosso, trained by Mahmood al Zarooni and ridden by Mickael Barzalona, was third. Poet's Voice, the mount of Frankie Dettori crossed the line last, while Ahmed Ajtebi was denied a third World Cup day win, coming 10th on Prince Bishop and failing to score in any other race.
Cape Blanco, the first World Cup runner from Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle yard, was fourth for the jockey Jamie Spencer.
The trainer Henry Cecil's pre-race favourite, Twice Over, finished well down the order, coming in ninth under Tom Queally, just behind Buena Vista, another fancied runner before the race.
Victoire Pisa, a two-time winner of Japan's Grade 1 Arima Kinen, was seventh behind Workforce in last year's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp and most recently won a Grade 2 race in Japan in February.
Yet things could have gone very differently for the four-year-old who had to recover from a bad start after he hit his head on the starting gate.
"The gates here are a little narrower than in Japan," Demuro said. "He was a little uncomfortable and so he leaned back and when the gates opened he banged his head and that's why he got such a bad start."
Meanwhile Transcend had gone to the front under jockey Shinji Fujita and was setting a dawdling pace. Godolphin's trio of Monterosso, Prince Bishop under Ajtebi and Poet's Voice, the mount of Dettori, tracked him in three abreast.
Demuro, knowing his horse did not have a second gear should he require a sprint finish, said he asked him for effort in the back straight, before any other runner kicked.
"The start was not good, but perhaps that was lucky," he said. "We were on the back stretch and it was a slow pace and so I decided to go early and get a good position. He didn't have to use much energy to catch up to the leader."
Victoire Pisa came down the outside, drew alongside Transcend and passed that horse to continue going to the finish line.
"I knew he would stay," Demuro said. "He is a big strong horse and he won two Kinens when giving weight to the rest of the field. I trusted my horse."
Demuro has won the Italian Derby and the Japan Cup but last night was his biggest victory.
Sumii, who also trained Vodka, Japan's favourite racehorse, the supermare who was retired last year, was anxious during the race.
"I was very nervous watching the race because the pace was so slow but I had faith in my horse," said the handler who has contested the Duty Free and Sheema Classic in the past.
"It has been a very dark time for Japan and I hope that this victory can help to lift up the country," he said.
Victoire Pisa will to travel to Hong Kong to contest the Group 1 Audemars Piguet QEII Cup and from there is expected to head to France for another tilt at the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.