Off to the Races at Tokyo Cup

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The owners of Tap It Light, including Jimmy Ukegawa, pose in the winners' circle. (Photos by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

By GWEN MURANAKA

English Editor

It was no typical day at the races at Santa Anita Racetrack. The sounds of taiko and shamisen, sumo wrestlers and armor-clad samurai warriors mixed in with the usual crowds of race fans for the 10th running of the $100,000 Tokyo City Cup. And on a day of Japanese culture, a Japanese American claimed the top prize.

Tap It Light ran to its first stakes win, fending off favorite Rendezvous to win the Tokyo City Handicap by 1-3/4 lengths. The gelding, co-owned by Jimmy Ukegawa and Scott An­astasi, has won two of three since returning in January as a six-year-old. The Ukegawas run Aviara Parkway Farms and have grown strawberries in Oceanside since the 1940s. Tap It Light was claimed by trainer Mike Mitchell for $40,00 in September 2008.

Samurai riders of Soma Nomaoi race past the Santa Anita grandstand.

The winner paid $21.60, $8.60 and $4.20. Rendezvous paid $4.60 and $3.20. Eagle Poise paid $4 to show. Next up for the Tokyo Cup winner will possibly be a run in Santa Anita’s closing-day marathon, the 1-3/4-mile San Juan Capistrano Stakes.

Before the marquee race, the fans at Santa Anita were entertained by a running of the samurai warriors of the Fukushima-based Soma Nomaoi. The city in Fukushima hosts a festival every July featuring the horse races. Santa Anita fans got a brief taste of the festival and even had a chance to take pictures with the samurai.

Vicky Oshiro Nishiuchi, was one of the Fukushima Kenjinkai mem­bers, who volunteered at the Soma Nomaoi booth. She noted that the rural area has a long history that dates back to the samurai.

“I’ve been there and its wonderful, my husband’s family is there. Several of the samurai movies that you see on the Taiga drama link back to there,” said Nishiuchi.

The Tokyo City Cup marks a partnership between Santa Anita and Tokyo City Keiba Ohi Racetrack. The two racetracks signed a friend­ship agreement, that has seen jockeys such as Corey Nakatani and Ken Desormeaux race in Tokyo, as well as the racing of the one-mile Santa Anita Trophy at TCK.

Nobuko Newton of U.S. Equine said the Santa Anita event has grown every year. She estimated more than 13,000 came to the event on Saturday, with 3,000 coming solely for the cultural events.

“Year by year the event is getting bigger with more activities and attractions,” said Newton. “The unique thing is that is combined with the horse racing, particularly the samurai racers are a rare thing to experience outside of Japan.”

A number of the races leading up to the Tokyo Cup were named in honor of Japanese corporations, including Kintetsu International, Yakult and Nippon Express USA. The sixth race was named for the Consulate General of Japan. Consul General Junichi Ihara and his wife Makiko, stood in the winner’s circle as the sixth race went off.

“Year after year this cultural event is getting bigger. I’m very happy to see the cultural exhibitors as well as visitors enjoying this event,” said Ihara.

But the consul general demurred on whether he had any picks for the races that day.

“We are not gamblers,” he said, smiling.

Check the online exclusive photo journal here.

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