This Sunday, March 29, Nagoya’s Chukyo Racecourse hosts the Takamatsunomiya Kinen, the second Grade 1 of the year and the first over turf. With measures still in effect to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the 1,200-meter sprint will go down in history as the first Japan Racing Association top-level race to be run without spectators packing the stands.
The gate, however, will be packed and the competition stiff, with attention focusing on the top three finishers of the 2019 autumn Grade 1 Sprinters Stakes – Tower of London, Mozu Superflare and Danon Smash – and some formidable talent yet untested over 6 furlongs, namely 2019 Best 3-Year-Old Filly Gran Alegria.
Nominations for the 50th running of the Takamatsunomiya Kinen number 25, include 10 fillies and mares, and range in age from 4 to 10. The final field of 18 will vie for a share of a purse of nearly ¥282 million, a winner’s prize of \130 million, and recognition as top sprinter of the spring season. Fillies and mares carry 55 kg, all others 57 kg.
The race begins in the backstretch and finishes just over 412 meters after the horses turn into the straight. The lefthanded Chukyo course, which also now hosts the Grade 1 Champions Cup in the autumn, demands speed and power, with a sharp upward slope that starts 340 meters from the finish line and rises nearly two meters over the next 100 meters.
The Takamatsunomiya Kinen is the 11th race on the Sunday card of 12 at Chukyo. Post time is 3:40 p.m.
Here are the standouts of this year’s field.
Tower of London – Miho-based Kazuo Fujisawa fields three of the Takamatsunomiya nominees and two of the likely most popular picks -- Tower of London and Gran Alegria. The former, a 5-year-old by Raven’s Pass, has seven wins and has only missed the top three spots in two of his 15 career starts. Raced exclusively over 1,200 meters in his last five starts from last summer, he scored highest in the 2019 Summer Sprint Series and captured his first Grade 1 with the Sprinters Stakes at the end of September. On March 7, he returned to finish third in the Yukan Fuji Sho Ocean Stakes (G3, 1,200) at Nakayama while carrying the race’s top weight of 58 kg. Weighing in 6 kg more for that race than he had for the Sprinters Stakes, improvement is expected. Though it will be his first time at Chukyo, Tower of London has fared well enough racing to the left, with a 1-12-2-5-1 record from his five starts at Tokyo, all over 1,400-1,600 meters. Though ridden by Christophe Lemaire for nearly all his starts thus far, Tower of London is expected to be paired on Sunday with Yuichi Fukunaga for the first time.
Gran Alegria – A 4-year-old daughter of Deep Impact, the lightly raced Gran Alegria has captured four of her six starts, including the Grade 1 Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) last year. Previously raced only over the mile, she was aimed for the 1,200-meter Sprinters Stakes last fall but was sidelined with hoof problems. In late December, she returned after nearly 8 months off, went up against older horses for the first time, and blew away the competition in winning the Hanshin Cup (G2, 1,400) by 5 lengths with a final three-furlong time of 33.5 seconds. Though this will be her first time at Chukyo, she won twice at Tokyo and expected to have no problem with the left-handed track. Her speed is expected to more than compensate for her debut over six furlongs and expectations are high that Gran Alegria may become the first Deep Impact progeny to capture a top-level sprint. Ridden exclusively by Christophe Lemaire to present, Kenichi Ikezoe is set for the ride on Sunday.
Danon Smash – A 5-year-old by champion sprinter Lord Kanaloa, Danon Smash has raced exclusively over 1,200 meters for his last 10 starts and captured five of them, including four Grade 3 competitions. Favorite in last year’s Takamatsunomiya Kinen, he finished in fourth place, only 0.2 seconds off winner Mr Melody, then in the fall ran third in the Sprinters Stakes, a mere 0.1 seconds off winner Tower of London. In Hong Kong, he finished in eighth place in the Hong Kong Sprint only 2 1/2 lengths behind the winner. Returning this year, he aced the Ocean Stakes last out despite being slow out of the gate. He has proven himself a consistent sprinter but, in five Grade 1 bids and though he has come close, he has yet to make the winner’s circle. Trainer Takayuki Yasuda sees no reason he can’t make it this time. “His break wasn’t the best last out,” says Yasuda, “but after that he ran a perfect race. He didn’t meet the expectations last year, but looking back, I’d say he was still maturing. He has filled out now. His movement is good and he’s had no problems in gate practice since his last start.”
A Will a Way – A 4-year-old filly by Just a Way, A Will a Way has four wins from 10 starts, with her best performances all over six furlongs. Her only other Grade 1 bid, the 2019 Grade 1 Oka Sho, saw her finish in 10th place. Since then she has been given only sprints, with her first graded-stakes victory notched last out in the Silk Road Stakes, a 1,200-meter Grade 3 at Kyoto on Feb. 2. Her only start at Chukyo, the CBC Sho last June, saw her finish in eighth over soft ground, but a first at Niigata and a second at Tokyo, indicate she is not flummoxed by a left-handed track. It should be noted that horses who went from the Silk Road Stakes directly to the Takamatsunomiya Kinen have, in the race’s last four runnings, won three times and finished second once.
Diatonic – A 5-year-old son of Lord Kanaloa and stablemate to Danon Smash, Diatonic turned in a gutsy performance last out in the Grade 3 Hankyu Hai over 1,400 meters. Unfortunately, it was a bit too gutsy and traffic issues resulted in his demotion to third place. Winner of the Mainichi Broadcast. Swan Stakes (G2, 1,400) on Oct. 26, Diatonic is racing over 1,200 meters for the first time and it will be his first time at Chukyo but he has done well at both Tokyo and Niigata. A consistent runner, he has finished out of the top three spots only three times in 14 career starts and is definitely not one to overlook.
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Others to watch are I Love Tailor, a 4-year-old filly whose career is still short but who has finished first or second in her seven starts to present. It will be her first time racing to the left but the long Chukyo stretch is believed to suit and she is primed from a splendid winning performance in the 1,200-meter listed race Yodo Tankyori Stakes last out. Normcore is being moved to six furlongs for the first time in her career but her record win of the Grade 1 Victoria Mile last year and her fourth-place finish in the 2019 Hong Kong Mile last out show she has the talent and the speed to do well here. Mozu Superflare, second in the Sprinters Stakes last year, finished 15th here in 2019, but this year he has gotten a more-relaxed rotation and is primed with a fourth place finish in the Silk Road Stakes last out.