x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Victory for Japan at the World Cup gives a ravaged nation hope

Tearful release as Victoire Pisa leads a Japanese one-two in the night's big race.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, right, with the Dubai World Cup-winning horse Victoire Pisa from Japan. Ali Haider / EPA
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, right, with the Dubai World Cup-winning horse Victoire Pisa from Japan. Ali Haider / EPA

DUBAI // Hope springs eternal. The Japanese contingent wore black polo shirts all week with the word "hope" emblazoned on the right sleeve. On the back of these shirts was printed the date of the tsunami that ravaged the north-eastern parts of the country earlier this month.

As Victoire Pisa, the Japanese horse, galloped to victory in the 16th running of the Dubai World Cup last night, edging compatriot Transcend, the emotion at Meydan Racecourse was palpable.

The tearful release of pressure by the family of Yoshimi Ichikawa, the winning owner, was a poignant moment. Manami Ichikawa, the owner's daughter, could scarcely hold herself back in the winners' enclosure. She ran and hugged Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, knocking off her head-piece.



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On seeing Olivier Peslier, the French jockey who has ridden extensively in Japan, she embraced him tearfully, and did not let him go. Her younger sister, Mika, watched with shining eyes.

All week Katsuhiko Sumii, the winning trainer, had been at pains to underline that the Japanese horses were to race as a team, and so it proved when Shinji Fujita, the jockey, took an early lead on his mount Transcend.

The pace was not fast, and as they left the back straight Mirco Demuro, the winning rider, came up alongside Transcend with ominous intent.

The two horses were never headed and only Godolphin, who have won the race five times, provided any sort of challenge as Monterosso, under the 18-year-old rider Mickael Barzalona, finished in third a quarter-length behind Transcend.

One of the stable grooms who has been looking after Victoire Pisa said this week he has no idea whether the house that he left behind in Miyagi prefecture, in the north of Japan, is still standing.

All of those long hours that he has been tending to Victoire Pisa's every need since touching down just days before the tsunami, he has not known whether he has any possessions left. In Yamamoto, where the groom works, there were 200 horses stabled when the wave swept through the country, stopping only moments from the edge of the training facility. Every horse is alive and well.

Last night's result highlighted the incredible dedication and sacrifice that this team have gone through to simply get Victoire Pisa to the racecourse, let alone to win the world's richest horse race.

Victoire Pisa earned his connections US$6 million (Dh22m) and, at the insistence of Sheikh Mohammed, the stable staff responsible for the winning thoroughbred share five per cent of the purse.

Last year, when Kinsale King won the Dubai Golden Shaheen, one of the grooms from Central America bought his family coffee plants in order to sustain them.