After a turbulent number of weeks, Killarney's own Oisin Murphy secured a first Breeders' Cup success at Del Mar on Saturday night and may yet be able to claim an 'I wuz there' moment in terms of international racing.
Murphy’s dramatic Distaff victory on the 50-1 outsider Marche Lorraine completed a momentous double for Japanese trainer Yoshito Yahagi who earlier on the card had landed the Filly & Mare Turf with Loves Only You.
Never before in 16 attempts had Japan won at the Breeders’ Cup: within a couple of hours it all changed and the reverberations could be huge.
Often content to play at home for colossal prize money and the sort of broad public appeal that many other major racing jurisdictions can only dream of, Saturday night’s results are likely to only encourage greater international ambitions for Japan.
A breakthrough in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe continues to be elusive but the power of the country’s thoroughbred industry has been reflected in major successes from Dubai to Hong Kong and Australia over the last two decades.
It’s hardly coincidental that the banning of race-day medication at the Breeders’ Cup for the first time resulted in the biggest Japanese raid yet on the meeting. That it paid off in style, and across the surfaces, promises to lend a lot more credence to US racing’s self-styled ‘World Championships’ in future.
“We’ve made history in Japanese racing and we’re thrilled,” Yahagi said. “Our team believed in trying to win a race at this famous meeting and that’s why we were successful.”
Murphy’s win cements his position to potentially benefit from any such future expansion since he already enjoys a huge reputation in Japan.
A successful couple of winters riding on the Japan Racing Association Circuit mean the triple-British champion jockey enjoys a major profile there. He also memorably won the 2019 Nassau Stakes on the Japanese star with the Irish name, Deirdre.
However recent negative headlines about Murphy’s drinking, coming on the back of a three month ban for a positive cocaine test last year, has seen the Irishman coping with an uncomfortable focus on more than just his exploits in the saddle.
Such an unlikely victory on the French sounding Japanese winner was therefore timely.
“This is a dream come true for me personally to win at the Breeders’ Cup, on dirt, and on a Japanese horse. It’s the biggest stage in the world,” Murphy said.
“Honestly did I think I could win? No, I didn’t, but Mr Yahagi has now had two winners today. That’s an unbelievable training performance.
“I try hard to get on the best horses I can around the world. I’m only 26 and these are the opportunities I crave,” he added.
In contrast to the Japanese, it was a blank Breeders’ Cup for Ireland with Aidan O’Brien’s apparent third-string, Broome, coming closest when runner-up to Yibir in the Turf.
Frankie Dettori got off Broome to ride Bolshoi Ballet in the race and with Ryan Moore on Japan it was top US jockey Irad Ortiz who came within an ace of landing the $4 million prize.
Only Yibir’s dramatic late thrust denied the Irish outsider by half a length as Dermot Weld’s 2-1 favourite Tarnawa failed to fire in 11th.
“She ran flat. I think France (runner up in the Arc) last time on very soft ground took plenty out of her,” reported jockey Colin Keane.
Yibir completed a Godolphin hat-trick over the two days with Charlie Appleby and William Buick all but carrying the European challenge on their own.
After Friday night’s chaotic scenes when the Juvenile Turf winner Modern Games was momentarily scratched by the stewards, and ruled a non-runner in local pool betting, it was déjà-vu all over again in Saturday’s Mile.
Like Modern Games’ stable companion Albahar the night before, Godolphin’s second-string, Master Of The Seas, got upset in the stalls and was withdrawn. However, the favourite Space Blues enjoyed a perfect trip to also win by half a length and end his racing career on a high-note.
It put a seal on 2021 for Appleby who is all but certain to be crowned Britain’s champion trainer for the first time.
“It’s been a fantastic weekend - I can even take a couple home fresh!” quipped the Englishman whose Breeders’ Cup record is now an astounding six winners from just 11 runners.
The Ado McGuinness trained A Case Of You and jockey Ronan Whelan were a nearest-at-finish fifth in the Turf Sprint behind the trailblazing local favourite Golden Pal.
Knicks Go also made sure nothing else got a look-in during the $6 million Classic as he made all the running under Joel Rosario.
The controversial Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit got closest but was still almost three lengths short at the line. The favourite Essential Quality finished third.