Amid the cherry blossoms and coronavirus concerns the Takamatsunomiya Kinen, Japan’s first turf Grade 1 of the year, is set to go on as scheduled on Sunday, 29 March at Nagoya’s Chukyo Racecourse.
The roar of the crowd from the Chukyo stands will be missing due to the JRA’s measures to slow the spread of the virus, which included a ban on the race-going public in effect since 29 February. This, however, will be the first Grade 1 since the establishment of the JRA in 1954, to be run without spectators.
The 1200m Takamatsunomiya Kinen is, along with the Sprinters Stakes (1200m) in the autumn, the first of Japan’s two G1 sprint races that usually decide the country’s top sprinter. The race’s 50th running is set to bring together the 2019 Sprinters Stakes winner Tower Of London, Sprinters Stakes third-place Danon Smash and the talented filly Gran Alegria, who is running over six furlongs for the first time.
Takamatsunomiya Kinen contenders were given their final fast work on Wednesday at their JRA training centres, Ritto in the west and Miho in the east. Miho was the centre of attention, as it is home to both Tower Of London and Gran Alegria, both trained by Kazuo Fujisawa, who currently leads Japan’s trainers with a total of 29 Grade 1 wins.
With regular rider Christophe Lemaire ordered to self-quarantine for two weeks after returning from Dubai, Yuichi Fukunaga has been pegged for the Takamatsunomiya Kinen ride on Tower Of London. However, with people nationwide being asked to stay at home, Fujisawa said: “I couldn’t very well ask (Fukunaga) to make the trip to ride fast work.”
Instead, Tower Of London worked alone under former Fujisawa stable jockey Hiroshi Kitamura on the woodchip course, clocking 67.6 seconds over five furlongs. Third in the six-furlong G3 Ocean Stakes last time out on 7 March at Nakayama, the Raven’s Pass five-year-old was on his toes but not as keen as he had been in work before his prep.
“He’s more relaxed and the extra weight he’d carried for his last race is gone. He’s much lighter on his feet,” Fujisawa said.
Tower Of London will also be carrying 2lb less than he did in the Ocean Stakes.
Meanwhile, on the Miho hill course, Gran Alegria looked sharp under stable jockey Makoto Sugihara, who took the Deep Impact filly over the four furlongs in 51.9s, with a 12.3s final furlong.
With only six starts in her career, Gran Alegria has already captured one Grade 1, the mile Oka Sho last year, and ran third and fifth in two others, the Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes and the NHK Mile Cup, respectively. She then topped a mixed field by five lengths in winning the 1400m G2 Hanshin Cup.
This will be Gran Alegria’s first six-furlong sprint and her first race in three months. Kenichi Ikezoe will have the ride in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen. The Ritto-based Ikezoe rode work at Miho on 18 March, with a five-furlong time aboard the filly over the flat woodchip course of 69.3s and a final furlong time of 12.2s.
“She worked alone, so the time was slow, but she was very well in hand and the jockey praised her for being so responsive,” Fujisawa said.
Meanwhile, at Ritto, Danon Smash worked under an assistant trainer to Takayuki Yasuda over the woodchip flat course. The five-year-old son of sprint champion Lord Kanaloa looked sharp and steady with a four-furlong time of 54.6s and a 11.9s final furlong. Stablemate Diatonic, also by Lord Kanaloa, turned in a crisp 53.4s up the hill course under Yuichi Kitamura.
Others getting good reviews in Thursday morning papers were Mozu Superflare, runner-up in last year’s Sprinters Stakes. Under jockey Fuma Matsuwaka, Mozu Superflare clocked a personal best up the Ritto hill course on Wednesday of 48.9 seconds over the four furlongs without urging.
Mozu Ascot, winner of the G1 February Stakes (1600m) on the dirt, worked under new partner Mirco Demuro, clocking 50.2s over the same stretch.