The Japan Autumn International series has yielded upsets of varying degrees over the past few weeks, but saved the biggest surprise for last when the 65-1 Sambista downed the boys in Sunday’s Champions Cup (G1) at Chukyo. Improving on her fourth in this race (formerly known as the Japan Cup Dirt) a year ago, the Katsuhiko Sumii trainee became the first distaffer to prevail in a Grade 1 dirt race on the JRA level.

While no filly or mare had ever won the Japan Cup Dirt/Champions Cup, there has been one female winner of the nation’s other marquee dirt event, the February S. at Tokyo – Hokuto Vega (1996). At that time, however, the February was a Japanese Grade 2.

Sambista had previously earned a top-level laurel in a Grade 1 under the local NAR auspices, the 2014 JBC Ladies’ Classic, in record time. In her title defense in the November 3 renewal, she was beaten five lengths in second. That implied she wasn’t entering in the same form, but the six-year-old blasted such a notion here.

Under new rider Mirco Demuro, Sambista carved out a ground-saving trip while biding her time off the pace. The 2-1 favorite, Copano Rickey, hustled to the early lead. After beating off initial pursuers Kurino Star O and Hong Kong’s Gun Pit, Copano Rickey had to endure the challenge of defending champion Hokko Tarumae entering the stretch.

As the established class began to tire in the midst of their battle, Sambista rallied boldly on the outside. The daughter of Suzuka Mambo pulled 1 1/2 lengths clear and negotiated about 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.4.

Even deeper closers filled out the rest of the placings. Three-year-old Nonkono Yume barreled up the fence to take second, a neck up on Sound True, who flashed home late for third. Roi Jardin checked in fourth, just in front of Hokko Tarumae. Wonder Acute, competing in his sixth edition of this race, wound up sixth. Copano Rickey faded to seventh, and in a measure of how taxing the initial stages were, pace attendants Kurino Star O and Gun Pit were the penultimate and last across the wire.

Sambista has now won or placed in 12 black-type events. Aside from her Champions Cup and 2014 JBC Ladies’ Classic crowns, she also captured last year’s Breeders’ Gold Cup and missed by a head when seeking a repeat August 13. Among her stakes victories this term are the January 21 TCK Jo-o Hai (under Mirco’s brother Cristian Demuro), April 14 Marine Cup and October 1 Ladies’ Prelude. Sambista had been unplaced in both of her tries versus males in 2015, winding up seventh behind Copano Rickey in the February and fifth to Wonder Acute in the May 5 Kashiwa Kinen.

Quotes courtesy of the Japan Racing Association

Winning jockey Mirco Demuro: “The inside barrier number four certainly helped and she loaded smoothly, and after Mr. Sumii told me that a female runner had never fared better than fourth in a dirt G1, I really wanted to improve on that…it really made me want to win it. We had a good start and was in a good position with Nihonpiro Ours and Copano Rickey in front of us. We had a little fright as our path was narrowed in both the third corner and going into the straight but she really stretched well in the home straight and she was terrific. I thought that maybe our move was a little early when we overtook the two top G1 winners at midstretch and while a lot of horses started to tire, I was just urging her to stay… It’s been a really good year for me… I’ve won the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas), the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) and although I’ve had my share of losses in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) and the Japan Cup, I was able to win another big race this time in the Champions Cup.”

Winning trainer Katsuhiko Sumii: “I am really happy with the victory as I know that for a mare to win against male horses on the dirt surface, which requires considerable power, is not easy and none had finished better than fourth-place — Sambista was fourth last year — in the past JRA-G1 history. Credit goes to Demuro for such a super ride to keep her in contention after racing her with the fast flowing pace, and I found myself screaming my head off when Sambista nailed the front in midstretch then praying that the strong chargers from behind would not catch her. Although the mare showed that she was competitive in this race last year and was consistent throughout this season, I did have my worries as she had put on another year in age and nearing the age of becoming a broodmare. Otherwise, she did not require much in terms of training. I will have to discuss her future with the owner but she may have another couple of starts before retiring.”

Jockey Zac Purton on the trailing Gun Pit: “I was following number 13 (Hokko Tarumae) into the straight but he was dead before then. He just seemed to struggle with the surface.”

Trainer Caspar Fownes on Gun Pit: “He got a bad squeeze at the stretch…he just sat him in the last three furlongs…the track had been so leader-biased all day so he had to ride him forward. We tried to give him the run but he was three wide the whole trip. He nearly got into a good spot but set to work at both ends.”

Sambista photo courtesy of Tomoya Moriuchi/Horsephotos.com