Dubai World Cup offers relief for Japan

The Associated Press
Thursday, March 24, 2011; 11:07 AM

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- When Buena Vista breaks from the starting gate in Saturday's Dubai World Cup, the 5-year-old mare will have a chance to lift the spirits of all of Japan with a winning performance in the world's richest horse race.

Buena Vista is one of three horses - along with Transcend and Victoire Pisa - in the $10 million race that are based in disaster-ravaged Japan.

The mare had already arrived in Dubai when the March 11 earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, but her owners have since been forced to relocate 200 other horses and staff from one of its training centers because it was only 19 miles from the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

"Every citizen is downhearted after the recent tragedies, and I am sure a victory would lift spirits of the Japanese people," said Katsumi Yoshida, a trustee of Sunday Racing Co., which owns Buena Vista. "Buena Vista is indeed very popular with the racing fans so a victory can only be a good thing for everyone."

While they are competitive on the track, all three Japanese owners spoke with one voice when it came to the crisis back home. They all said success Saturday could rally the spirits of the country which is struggling to recover from the disaster which so far has killed more than 9,700, left nearly 16,500 missing and could end up costing the country $309 billion.

Most of the Japanese teams are wearing black polo shirts with the word "hope" above a Japanese flag on the right sleeve and the date of the quake and tsunami on the back.

"Many of those people who died, were injured or suffered from the earthquake or tsunami included lots of horse racing fans," said Koji Maeda, the owner of Transcend. "If my horse wins, it can help encourage them and strongly hope it does."

Katsuhiko Sumii, the trainer of Victoire Pisa, said he initially considered pulling out of the race. One of the team's stables in one of the hardest-hit prefectures, Miyagi, barely avoided being hit by the tsunami, he said, but the 200 horses have been relocated because the area has no electricity or running water.

"My personal feeling was should we really be racing? At first I thought so," said Sumii, who also trains Rulership, who is running in the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic.

"But with the results of this race, we hope to bring back some hope and courage to the people of Japan," he said. "We have three Japanese horses in the biggest race. We have all come together and we are looking for a very good race because all the horses are in terrific condition."

Horse racing is one of Japan's most popular sports, but until now no Japan-based horse has won the Dubai World Cup. By most accounts, this year could be different, with all three horses given a legitimate chance of winning the race that drew a field of 14 from five countries.

Simon Crisford, racing manager at Dubai ruler Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum's Godolphin stables, called the three Japanese horses "top, top notch, top class, very good and very much respected."

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