Three horses that spearheaded Japan’s early-season dominance in Saudi Arabia and Dubai return to action in the Takarazuka Kinen (G1) June 26 at Hanshin Racecourse facing some talented stay-at-home types with future international engagements on the line.
The winner at the end of 2,200 meters (about 1 3/8 miles) gains an automatic entry to both—either, really, given they’re just two weeks and 9,768 miles apart—the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1T) at Keeneland and Australia’s Ladbroke’s Cox Plate (G1).
The international path is a proven one as Graceful lily won both the Takarazuka Kinen and the Cox Plate in 2019, then finished her remarkable career with a top-level triple by landing the Arima Kinen (G1).
Females have won the last three editions of the Takarazuka Kinen and if that trend is to continue, Daring Tact looks the most likely to get the job done. The 5-year-old Epiphaneia mare returned from a 13-month absence to finish a respectable sixth in the Victoria Mile (G1) May 15 and will have to improve on that while adding 600 meters.
“She was coming back after her long layoff last time, and it was a tough mile race. There had been quite a lot of rain before the race and she drew the inside gate, which wasn’t to her advantage … I thought it was a good run, considering everything,” trainer Haruki Sugiyama said after drawing the No. 7 gate.
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Melody Lane and Win Marilynthe other distaffers in the field, will be longer odds.
The favorite’s role could be up for grabs among the likes of title holder, Eforiaand deep bond .
Titleholder, a 4-year-old Duramente colt, won the 2021 Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger, G1) at 3,000 meters and already is 2-for-2 in 2022, most recently taking the Tenno Sho (Spring) (G1) at 3,200 meters over the Hanshin turf. The Takarazuka Kinen is one of two Japanese races in which fans vote for which horses they’d like to see run and Titleholder won that honor this year.
“I do feel some pressure with the horse being in the spotlight,” said Titleholder’s trainer, Toru Kurita. “But I hope he’ll do well.”
Eforia has won six of his eight starts, including three top-level stakes and finished in front of Titleholder in three of those races. But the 4-year-old Epiphaneia Colt struggled to a ninth-place finish in his 2022 debut, the Osaka Hai (G1) April 3, and hasn’t raced since. Trainer Yuichi Shikato said the colt is in better shape after the break and has been working well with the addition of blinkers.
“It was too bad about his last race, so I want to see the real Eforia this time, and hope that he can show what a talented horse he is,” the trainer said.
Deep Bond, a 5-year-old by Kizuna has been first or second in six of his last seven starts and was last seen second to Titleholder in the Tenno Sho (Spring).
Returning from triumphs in the desert are Authority , Panthalassa and stay crazy .
Authority, a 4-year-old by Goldsmith out of the Symboli Kris S pond Rosalind finished second to Contrail in the Japan Cup (G1) to end 2021, then won the Neom Turf Cup Presented by Jahez (G3T) at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Saudi Arabia in February before finishing third in the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic (G1T).
Panthalassa, a 5-year-old by Lord Kanaloa dead-heated with Lord North for the win in the Dubai Turf Sponsored by DP World (G1T) March 26.
Then there’s stay crazy . While Authority went to the Middle East with credentials, Stay Foolish, a 7-year-old son of Stay Gold brought question marks as his record showed only two long-ago wins from 29 starts.
He loved something about the change of scenery or, more likely, the added distance, as he became a key factor in Japan’s months-long international tour de force, winning both the Longines Red Sea Turf Handicap (G3T) at 3,000 meters (about 1 7/8 miles) in Saudi Arabia and the Dubai Gold Cup Sponsored by Al Tayer Motors (G2T) at 3,200 meters (about two miles). Those were the longest efforts of his career.
Assistant trainer Yusaku Oka: “He ran well in Saudi and Dubai over the long trips but this time it’ll be shorter. So we’ll just have to see how he adjusts to the distance.”
After the Takarazuka Kinen, the next top-level event on the Japanese racing calendar is the Sprinters Stakes (G1) at Nakayama Racecourse Oct. 2.