When Cesario dominated her 11 opponents in the $750,000 American Oaks a year ago, the four-length victory was possibly the biggest win in Japanese horse racing history.
In beating favored Melhor Ainda and several other talented 3-year-old fillies in a stakes-record 1:59.03 for the 1 1/4 miles on turf, Cesario, a daughter of Special Week, became the first Japanese-bred to win a Grade I in the United States.
Japan will be hoping for a repeat when the Oaks is run for the fifth time Sunday. The country’s representative this time is Asahi Rising, a daughter of Royal Touch and a granddaughter of Sunday Silence, winner of the 1989 Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Breeders’ Cup Classic and horse of the year.
Although she does not have the credentials of Cesario, who was injured and never raced again after her American Oaks success, Asahi Rising is a contender. She has won three of nine for owner Masmitsu Terauchi and trainer Masaaki Koga. Third in the Japanese Oaks in her most recent race May 21 at Tokyo Race Course, she has earned $861,805.
Asahi Rising isn’t the only hope Japan has for a lucrative win this weekend in Inglewood. Today, Dance In The Mood, an unlucky second in the 2004 American Oaks when given a less-than-ideal ride, is back as a 5-year-old. She is scheduled to run in the $750,000 CashCall Mile, a Grade III formerly called the Royal Heroine.
The name of the race was changed and its purse boosted considerably -- from $200,000 a year ago -- after prominent horse owner J. Paul Reddam, the money-lending company’s founder, became involved as a sponsor.
Asahi Rising and Dance In The Mood, who has won five of 20 and earned more than $4.485 million, will be ridden by Victor Espinoza.
“They both have settled in well,” said Nobutaka Tada, the racing manager for the two horses. “Asahi Rising could have won the Japanese Oaks with a little bit of luck. That race was at 1 1/2 miles, and she’s better-suited to a mile and a quarter.
“She can do anything. We think her style of racing will suit her here. She has speed and is a nice, relaxed horse.
“If she stays in the same kind of condition she’s been in, she will have a very good chance to win. It was big news in Japan when Cesario won the American Oaks last year. It gave people confidence that a Japanese horse could win again.”
Since finishing a length behind Ticker Tape in the Oaks two years ago, Dance In The Mood has won only once in 14 starts for owner-breeder Zeruya Yoshida and trainer Kazuo Fujisawa. However, she has been competitive racing against colts on several occasions.
Asahi Rising will be trying 10 furlongs for the first time Sunday. Her three wins have come at seven furlongs or a mile.
If she is able to give Japan another victory, it will be huge news back home.
“When Cesario won last year, most of the news programs on television had it at the top of the broadcast as soon as the race was finished,” said Nobutoshi Mochizuki of the Japan Racing Assn. “We made a special about Cesario’s win, and it was televised over and over again at all the racetracks and off-track betting facilities throughout the country.
“The win in a Grade I in the U.S. has always been a fervent wish for Japanese horsemen and fans, and it proved to us that Japanese horses could compete with the American horses.”
Besides the CashCall Mile, today’s card includes the $150,000 A Gleam Handicap, a Grade II for fillies and mares at seven furlongs, and the $100,000 Landaluce, an ungraded race for 2-year-old fillies at six furlongs.