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Jockey Mirco Demuro remembers the bold mid-race moves on Victoire Pisa that won him the Arima Kinen and Dubai World Cup.
Mid-race moves in Group 1 events are the recourse of a particular breed of jockey. When millions of dollars are on the line, things aren’t going to plan and the world is watching, many riders might make the choice, subconscious or otherwise, to wither on the proverbial vine, preferring to fade with their horse’s chances than risk making headlines for the wrong reasons.
All jockeys are brave, but those who refuse to go quietly when they see it all slipping away are bolder beasts entirely. Mirco Demuro is one such animal, and a decidedly more fearsome one than the cute red and black ladybug motif assigned to the Italian by his large Japanese fanbase.
Demuro’s association with Japan’s Victoire Pisa remains a study in big race pragmatism. Not once but twice, it was Demuro’s fearlessness in the saddle that proved the most influential hand in bestowing Group 1 glory upon the Katsuhiko Sumii-trained galloper.
First came the 2010 Arima Kinen, when Demuro – who eventually went full-time in the JRA in 2015 – was still operating as a highly regarded fly-in-fly-out short-term contract rider.
In securing a booking aboard promising three-year-old colt Victoire Pisa in Nakayama’s year-ending, fan-voted, big-betting extravaganza, Demuro had a live chance in a race he’d been captivated by since first arriving in Japan in 1999.
“The owner (Yoshimi Ichikawa) and trainer asked me to ride the horse the year before in the 2000 Guineas, but I had a retainer in Europe, so I could not come to Japan at that time and he won easily,” Demuro told Asian Racing Report.
“Then I was supposed to ride him in the Japan Cup, but Maxime Guyon rode him, and he ran a huge race for third.
“Then I was asked to ride the horse in the Arima Kinen. To ride in the Arima Kinen was a huge opportunity for me and the horse was very promising at the time, and I had been watching him for a while.”
Looming large as Demuro’s biggest obstacle on Nakayama’s 2500-metre course was Buena Vista, odds of 1.7 in the world’s biggest betting race suggesting that it wasn’t just hope and adulation that had been invested in the mare soon to be named Japanese Horse of the Year.
“I had ridden Victoire Pisa in work and he had given me a very good impression, he was a strong stayer,” recalled Demuro.
As the race unfolded, Demuro made the decision to sacrifice a plum stalking position on the fence to stride forward and sit outside the lead.
“The pace wasn’t fast so I made the move down the back stretch, and when I came into the straight I felt it was going to be difficult for these horses to catch me.”
Difficult for all, of course but Buena Vista, suddenly produced from the chasing pack by Christophe Soumillon, and threatening.
“Beuna Vista was an amazing filly so she came at the end very strongly. I had the sensation that she didn’t catch me, but we were out wide so I wasn’t completely sure.
“I won by a centimetre. It was an amazing performance but I would have been happy even if I finished second because he did the best he could. He always gave me all of his heart.”
In the immediate aftermath of the Arima Kinen, trainer Sumii flagged a second overseas stint for Victoire Pisa, having unsuccessfully campaigned in France earlier in 2010.
Returning to the track two months later with Demuro up in the G2 Nakayama Kinen, and winning comfortably as a 1.4 favourite, it was then off to Dubai and a bid for the $10 million Dubai World Cup on the Meydan synthetic, which posed a new challenge for Victoire Pisa, having hitherto only campaigned on turf.
Henry Cecil’s Twice Over (2/1) and Aidan O’Brien’s Cape Blanco (4/1) dominated the market, with Buena Vista – spearheading a three-strong Japanese challenge – on the third line of betting.
If Demuro’s mid-race tailoring had been on the subtler side in the Arima Kinen, the jockey’s alterations were unmistakably transformative in Dubai.
“I wanted to break well and be in second or third position but he missed the break, which is very unusual for him because he is a very serious horse,” said Demuro.
Sitting back last and with a farcical tempo unfolding up-front, Demuro made the snap decision to whip around the field in its entirety along the back straight, targeting that familiar spot sitting outside the lead that had so well-served Victoire Pisa in the Arima Kinen.
As the rest of the field floundered when the sprint finally went on, it was left to the two less-fancied Japanese runners to fight it out, with Demuro and Victoire Pisa out-scrapping Shinji Fujita and Transcend in a gruelling, famous finish.
Japan’s historic Dubai quinella was achieved against a backdrop of great sadness, coming just fifteen days after the catastrophic Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.
“Japan was going through the hardest time in people’s lives, the most difficult time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so we were going through a very bad time,” said Demuro.
“It was the first positive thing since the catastrophe. All of Japan was watching the race and hoping for the Japanese horses to do well, so to win the Dubai World Cup was a miracle.”
Demuro’s connection with Victoire Pisa didn’t end in Dubai, piloting the stallion’s daughter Jeweler to Group 1 success in the Oka Sho some five years later.
“I also won the Derby on Victoire Pisa’s sire Neo Universe, so it is special because all of the bloodlines are connected. To win Group 1s on three generations like that, there aren’t many times that can happen.”
Despite having ridden a galaxy of Japanese stars over the last two decades, few, if any, in Demuro’s eyes, have matched Victoire Pisa for toughness.
“Duramente has to be on top as the best I have ridden; he probably had more ability than Victoire Pisa but what Victoire Pisa did was amazing,” he said.
“I guess it was in his DNA, because his father Neo Universe, he also didn’t have that huge physical potential either, he won on heart too.
“On pure ability, Victoire Pisa was no hero, no superstar, but inside he was special: he won the Arima Kinen because he had a big heart.”
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