INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Japanese filly Cesario pulled away at the top of the stretch and went on to a four-length victory in the $750,000 American Oaks on Sunday at Hollywood Park.
Cesario became the first Japanese-bred to win a Grade 1 race in the United States, triggering a huge winner’s circle celebration that featured the Japanese flag waving on a most American holiday weekend.
“I love America,” winning trainer Katsuhiko Sumii said through an interpreter. “I’ve had a dream of winning in American racing; I am very happy.”
Breaking from post 13 on the far outside, Cesario ran 1¼ miles on the turf in a stakes record time of 1:59.03 and paid $10.80, $4.60 and $3.80.
Also Sunday, Unfurl the Flag won the $350,000 Triple Bend Handicap; Splendid Blended won the $300,000 Vanity Handicap; and Whilly won the $250,000 American Handicap.
The Oaks was televised live in Japan, where it was already Monday.
Jockey Yuichi Fukunaga pumped his right arm entering the winner’s circle aboard the 3-year-old filly, who was draped with a blanket of red and white carnations in an American flag pattern.
“She ran her best race here,” he said through an interpreter.
Cesario upset 6-5 wagering favorite Melhor Ainda, trained by Bobby Frankel and undefeated in four previous career starts that she won by a combined 17¾ lengths.
Frankel scratched his other Oaks entry, Louvain, so she could run against easier competition Monday.
Melhor Ainda came from way back to finish second under John Velazquez; British-bred Singhalese was third in the field of 12 international fillies.
Velazquez blamed a starting gate mishap for Melhor Ainda’s loss.
“She didn’t actually stumble, but she grabbed herself and put her toes down,” he said. “It took me three or four steps to get her going. I tried to catch up on the backside, but the other one just got away from us.”
Cesario became the first Japanese-bred to win a race in the United States since Hakuchikara won the Washington’s Birthday Handicap at Santa Anita in 1959.
A year ago, Japanese-bred Dance in the Mood finished second in the Oaks.
“This is the first step for us, so this will encourage all Japanese breeders,” said Sumii, adding that he would talk to the filly’s owner about possibly running in the Breeders’ Cup in New York in October.
Cesario, a striking black filly, is a granddaughter of 1989 Kentucky Derby winner Sunday Silence. She was no worse than third at any point in the race, while Melhor Ainda was 10th at the one-mile mark.
“I tried not to get boxed in along the rail,” Fukunaga said.
He has ridden Cesario in all five of her victories; her only loss was with another jockey. She won the Japanese Oaks at 1½ miles May 22.
In the Vanity ’Cap, Jerry Bailey guided Splendid Blended to a head victory, giving him 21 graded stakes victories this year, which leads the nation.
She covered 1 1-8 miles in 1:49.33.
In the Triple Bend ’Cap, Unfurl the Flag and Corey Nakatani won by two lengths, going seven furlongs in 1:20.95.
Kentucky Derby champion Animal Kingdom was unable to go out a winner, fading quickly in the Queen Anne Stakes on Tuesday in his last race before retirement.
Ramon Dominguez, a three-time Eclipse Award winner as the leading jockey in North America, retired on Thursday due to a head injury suffered in a fall earlier this year.