Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
When Fleetstreet Dancer battled back on the inside to edge Admire Don in the Japan Cup Dirt, it came as a shocking result. The unheralded American shipper, trained by Doug O’Neill, and ridden by Jon Court, not only knocked off the heavily favored Japanese runner, but he did so at odds of 48-1. Since that edition ten years ago, you could say the venue has been decidedly less kind to shippers coming from the United States. High profile American trained horses that ventured to the Far East for a shot at their most important dirt race include Lava Man, Student Council, Tin Cup Chalice, and Tizway. None of them could fare better than the 8th place finish of Student Council. The American Champion 3yo Male of 2009, Summer Bird, also made the trip, but was injured before raceday. Now, four years removed since our last shot in the Japan Cup Dirt, there is another American in Japan. Pants on Fire is set to join 15 other horses aiming to grab victory in the $3 million, nine-furlong race scheduled for December 1 at Hanshin Racecourse.
Owned by George and Lori Hall, and trained by Kelly Breen, Pants on Fire races for the same connections that upset the 2011 Belmont Stakes with Ruler On Ice. While that victory represents the group’s biggest win, it is Pants on Fire, a winner of nearly $1.2 million lifetime, that has proved to be their most consistent runner.
A four-time graded stakes winner, the five-year-old son of Jump Start broke through on the national stage back in 2011 when he was piloted to victory by Rosie Napravnik in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby. Off that performance, the pair garnered a great deal of support in the Kentucky Derby, and was in contention at the top of the Churchill Downs stretch, but faded late to finish ninth behind Animal Kingdom. Pants On Fire came back to win the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park in his next start, but his three-year-old season ended after a fifth place finish as one of the favorites in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational.
After a nondescript four-year-old season, in which he won only an optional claimer, and the listed Skip Away Stakes, out of five starts last year, Pants On Fire has returned to his best form this year. He finished no worse than third in his first six starts in 2013, including a 1 ¾ length score in the Grade 2 Monmouth Cup. Two starts back, he arguably ran the race of his life when he rolled in the Grade 3 Ack Ack Handicap at Churchill Downs. The final time for the one-mile race was a sterling 1:33.78, which earned him a lifetime best Beyer of 107. The impressive victory earned him a trip out to California, but the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile would only result in a disappointing 7th place finish.
Pants On Fire came out of the race good, though, and has had one workout since the effort, working a good four furlongs at Santa Anita in :48 flat. He shipped out, and arrived safely in Japan last Friday. Can Pants On Fire do something special on the ten-year anniversary of Fleetstreet Dancer’s big win in the Japan Cup Dirt? Recent history says the odds will not be in his favor, but I’d love to see it happen.