x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Dubai World Cup: Gentildonna gets 'bigger all the time' as Dubai Sheema Classic approaches

A legion of media from the Far East country is following the super filly, whom her trainer, Sei Ishizaka, says could be the best the Japan Racing Association has ever produced. Geoffrey Riddle follows her story.

Sei Ishizaka, the trainer for Gentildonna, is certain his filly will make Japan proud in the Dubai Sheema Classic on World Cup night at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai.
Sei Ishizaka, the trainer for Gentildonna, is certain his filly will make Japan proud in the Dubai Sheema Classic on World Cup night at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai.

DUBAI // The Japanese media know a good thing when they see it and Meydan Racecourse has been awash with Japanese reporters this week hoping to catch a glimpse of Gentildonna, the super filly universally acknowledged to be the favourite for the Dubai Sheema Classic on Saturday.

Japan's Horse of the Year seemed sprinkled with stardust as she strode along the turf for the first time Tuesday morning to the backdrop of the rising sun.

Numerous film crews and a legion of reporters, notebooks in hand, were hanging off every word that trainer Sei Ishizaka dared to utter as the filly stretched her legs by completing a full lap of the course.

Ishizaka does not seem the type to resort to hyperbole, being a fairly typical exponent of Japanese humility, but there was no disguising where he felt his filly should be in the pantheon of Japanese equine achievement.

"In the history of the Japan Racing Association there have been several fillies that have achieved the Triple Crown," Ishizaka stated.

"I believe she is better than most of them and is still young. She is only just four years old and can be one of the best fillies ever."

Gentildonna's Triple Tiara success last season was nothing but par for the course as the daughter of Deep Impact, a Japanese Triple Crown winner himself.

It was Gentildonna's victory in the Japan Cup in Tokyo in November, however, that sealed her greatness. In second was Orfevre, himself a Triple Crown winner who had thrown away the Prix De l'Arc Triomphe at Longchamp a month earlier.

The colt, who was the highest-rated middle distance performer in the world, tried to bustle and bump the younger filly out of stealing his limelight but under Yusanari Iwata she gave as good as she got in return and fought furiously to deny Orfevre by a nose.

She became the first three-year-old filly in history to win the Group 1 race, run over the Sheema distance of 2,400 metres.

"To be ranked as the top filly in the world is a great honour," Ishizaka said. "If she can race in the same sort of form that she has in the past then she has a very good chance of winning. Her greatest assets are that she is a very clever horse and has a very strong heart."

Winning in Japan is one thing, but Japanese fillies have struggled to assert themselves on the world stage in the past.

Vodka, the highest-earning filly of all-time in Japan, could not land a blow in four starts in Dubai in three seasons from 2008.

Buena Vista, the 2011 Japan Cup winner, was only eighth in the Dubai World Cup behind Victoire Pisa the same year, although it had finished second in the Sheema Classic the previous season.

Ishizaka knows how hard it can be to translate Japanese form to foreign climes having brought Vermilion to Dubai without success twice.

Vermilion was 15 lengths behind Invasor in the 2007 World Cup, and was firmly put in his place when Curlin put 40 lengths on him 12 months later.

"It is very difficult to win on the world stage," Ishizaka said.

"There have been many statistics that said she could not win the Japan Cup and the Oaks. She overcame them all and re-wrote history.

"Bringing a horse all the way to Dubai is not going to be easy, I know that. Gentildonna is not an ordinary superstar horse though.

"She is out of the range of any other."

There were around 30 Japanese journalists on Tuesday and that number is set to swell over the next few days as Dubai World Cup night looms.

What seems impossible to get much greater, however, is the admiration in which those journalists hold Gentildonna.

"Everybody in Japan thinks she is a superstar," said Miho Wada, a journalist for Nikkan Sports News, a Japanese daily racing paper.

"Daughters of Deep Impact are usually compact, but she is well muscled and very powerful. She is getting bigger all the time, especially in her hind quarter, which does not look very lady-like at all."



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