JRA-organized races and racegoers have fortunately been able to avoid the worst effects of the COVID-19 pandemic this year. Whereas races had to be held in front of empty stands from mid-January, venues gradually began to reopen their doors with capacity limitations as early as March, Nakayama Racecourse being the last to do so in April. With the exception of the February Stakes, the spring G1 series was able to be held with the attendance and support of fans. The World All-Star Jockeys, however, which is held annually in Sapporo in late August, had to be canceled for the second year in a row.
Major spring events around the world resumed this year. At the Dubai World Cup day meeting in late March, Japanese contenders registered runner-up efforts in four G1 races on the card. The following month, they swept the top four places in Hong Kong’s Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1, 2,000m), where Loves Only You (JPN, M5, by Deep Impact) took home first prize. As contenders expected to compete abroad this autumn gradually coming to light, six home-bred nominees for this year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1, 2,400m) on October 3 were announced in May.
The first potential Arc runner to be announced was Deep Bond (JPN, C4, by Kizuna),who was 10th, 5th and 4th in last year’s Triple Crown races, each time behind champion Contrail (JPN, C4, by Deep Impact) who made a clean sweep. The Kizuna colt proved his skills on yielding going in dominating the Hanshin Daishoten (G2, 3,000m) in March by a formidable five lengths. His previous graded victory came in the Kyoto Shimbun Hai (G2, 2,200m) last season. He followed up in the Tenno Sho (Spring) (G1, 3,200m) with a close 3/4-length second despite being race favorite, but the colt will still follow the footsteps of both his father and grandfather Deep Impact by running in France.
Deep Bond, who will be stabled at a Chantilly yard that Hiroo Shimizu opened in 2018, will first run in a step race, the Prix Foy (G2, 2,400m), on September 12. Accompanying the colt will be Entscheiden (JPN, H6, by Deep Impact), who is looking to notch a group-race title at the mile distance, possibly the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp (G1, 1,600m) on September 5.
Chrono Genesis (JPN, M5, by Bago) fared well in her first overseas endeavor in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1, 2,410m) where, despite being bumped several times in the stretch, dug in strongly to finish a close second. Although the long trip to the Middle East took a toll on the five-year-old mare, who lost weight after returning home, she steadily regained her form and was voted first by fans to defend her TakarazukaKinen (G1, 2,200m) title on June 27. She answered with a tremendous closing to put away her rivals by a 2-1/2-length margin. Chrono Genesisbecame only the third horse to claim three consecutive Grand Prix races, including the year-end Arima Kinen (G1, 2,500m).
A decisive decision factor in her Arc bid was a thumbs up from jockey Christophe Lemaire, who stated that the progeny of 2004 Arc winner Bago has a very good aptitude for French tracks and race developments she could likely face there. The mare, who will be stabled at Pascal Bary’s barn in Chantilly after flying to France in mid to late September, will run only in the Arc and have Oisin Murphy in the saddle.
Stella Veloce(JPN, C3, by Bago) displayed the fastest stretch drive to land a good runner-up effort in last year’s Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes (G1, 1,600m), which followed his first graded win in the Saudi Arabia Royal Cup (G3, 1,600m) a couple of months earlier. Sent off sixth and ninth favorite in the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas, G1, 2,000m) and the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby, G1, 2,400m), respectively, the Bago colt showed good turns of foot and closed well to finish third in both. Instead of heading for France, the colt will kick off his fall campaign in the Kobe Shimbun Hai (G2, 2,200m) on September 26 and then possibly the KikukaSho(Japanese St. Leger, G1, 3,000m) if he performs well.
Meiner Virtus(JPN, H5, by Screen Hero) impressively overcame soft going to land an emphatic 11-length victory in the Fukushima Mimpo Hai (Listed, 2,000m). Three months later, the five-year-old made his first grade-race appearance in the Hakodate Kinen (G3, 2,000m) but lacked the needed kick in the stretch and was eighth.
Mozu Bello(JPN, H5, by Deep Brillante) scored his first graded win in the Nikkei Shinshun Hai (G2, 2,400m) last season and went on to a good third in the 2020 TakarazukaKinen as 12th pick, overcoming heavy showers before the race. This season, the Deep Brillante horse has improved his form to handle yielding going well, finishing second in the Osaka Hai (G1, 2,000m) in April but then disappointed with a mundane eighth in the TakarazukaKinen on a good to firm track.
Lei Papale (JPN, F4, by Deep Impact), after claiming her first three career starts, missed her chance to run in the last leg of the fillies’ Triple Crown, the Shuka Sho (G1, 2,000m), due to an unluckypick in a lottery. But then she marked back-to-back wins, including her first graded victory in the Challenge Cup (G3, 2,000m) last December.Her first G1 attempt produced a remarkable four-length victory in the Osaka Hai, where she was the fourth pick among a competitive field that included 2020 Triple Crown champion Contrail, who finished third and looks to take a long break until the autumn season.
In the following TakarazukaKinen, the Deep Impact filly led the field up to the 100-meter marker but was caught by the eventual winner Chrono Genesis and then was nosed out by Unicorn Lion (IRE, H5, by No Nay Never) at the wire to finish third, thus ending the undefeated filly’s winning streak at six in her first 2,200m race after she steadily stepped up in distance since debuting at 1,600-meters. It has been decided that the filly will pass up the Arc and aim for the Tenno Sho (Autumn) (G1, 2,000m) or the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1, 2,200m) instead.
Loves Only You (JPN, M5, by Deep Impact), after returning from a successful overseas spring campaign this year, is now targeting the Breeders’ Cup in the United States this fall. Winless since her YushunHimba(Japanese Oaks, G1, 2,400m) triumph two years ago, the Deep Impact mare finally prevailed in the Kyoto Kinen(G2, 2,200m), her first start of this season. In her first outing abroad, the Dubai Sheema Classic, she finished third behind winner Mishriff (IRE, C4, by Make Believe) and Chrono Genesis. Moving on to Hong Kong, the five-year-old mare pulled away from a fierce rally to land her second G1 title in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup. In the process, she beat second-place Japanese foes Glory Vase (JPN, H6, by Deep Impact) and third-place Daring Tact (JPN, F4, by Epiphaneia), last year’s fillies’ Triple Crown queen, who wasdiagnosed with ligamentitis in her right foreleg after the race.
Loves Only You is scheduled to run in the Sapporo Kinen (G2, 2,000m) on August 22 prior to the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1, 2,200m) on November 6 and then take a shot at the Hong Kong Cup (G1, 2,000m) on December 12. Her stablemate Justin(JPN, H5, by Orfevre)will accompany her for a possible bid in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1, dirt, 1,200m)and the Hong Kong Sprint (G1, 1,200m) as well.
Grenadier Guards (JPN, C3, by Frankel), champion of last year’s Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes (G1, 1,600m), will join Loves Only You in making a Breeders’ Cup bid this autumn. The Frankel colt marked a runner-up effort in the Falcon Stakes (G3, 1,400m) at the beginning of this season and followed up with a 2-1/2-length third in the NHK Mile Cup (G1, 1,600m) in May. He is scheduled to run in the Keisei Hai Autumn Handicap (G3, 1,600m) on September 12 before heading to California for the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1, 1,600m) on November 6.
Other spring G1 winners scheduled to return this summer or fall include:
• Cafe Pharoah (USA, C4, by American Pharoah), victor of the February Stakes (G1, dirt, 1,600m) and winner of five out of eight starts over dirt, made his first turf-race start in the Hakodate Kinen (G3, 2,000m) but was a disappointing ninth. His rider Christophe Lemaire commented, however, that the innermost draw had prevented Cafe Pharoah from showing his true strength and that neither the surface nor distance had anything to do with the outcome
• Danon Smash (JPN, H6, by Lord Kanaloa), an experienced sprinter with multiple graded wins, including the 2020 Hong Kong Sprint and this year’s TakamatsunomiyaKinen (G1, 1,200m), will resume his fall campaign in the Sprinters Stakes (G1, 1,200m) on October 3
• Sodashi (JPN, F3, by Kurofune), the undefeated white filly who claimed the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas, G1, 1,600m) this year, failed to respond in the stretch in the following YushunHimba and was a disappointing eighth. She will start in the Sapporo Kinen this summer and then likely run in the Shuka Sho (G1, 2,000m), the fillies’ Triple Crown final leg in October
• MeishoDassai(JPN, H8, by Suzuka Mambo), who scored a second J-G1 title in the Nakayama Grand Jump (4,250m) in April, is primed to defend his Nakayama Daishogai (J-G1, 4,100m) title on December 25 and will probably prepare by running in the Tokyo High-Jump (J-G2, 3,110m) on October 17
• Efforia (JPN, C3, by Epiphaneia), victor in the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas, G1, 2,000m), seems to be targeted at the Tenno Sho (Autumn) (G1) on October 31 and then the Japan Cup (G1, 2,400m) on November 28, rather than the KikukaShoon October 24
• World Premier (JPN, H5, by Deep Impact), the 2019 KikukaSho champion who once again proved his stayer talent with a course-record win in this year’s Tenno Sho (Spring), his second G1 victory, is looking to run once again in the Japan Cup
• Schnell Meister (GER, C3, by Kingman), this year’s NHK Mile Cup (G1, 1,600m) victor and subsequent third-place finisher in the Yasuda Kinen—his first challenge against older foes—will begin his autumn season with the Mainichi Okan (G2, 1,800m) on October 10 and then most likely be at the gate of the Mile Championship (G1, 1,600m) on November 21
• Gran Alegria (JPN, M5, by Deep Impact), five-time G1 winner, including the Victoria Mile (1,600m) in May, plus fourth in the Osaka Hai in April, will make another bid at the 2,000m distance in the Tenno Sho (Autumn)
• Uberleben (JPN, F3, by Gold Ship) recovered well from a swollen left foreleg after winning this year’s YushunHimba and will join Oka Sho winner Sodashi in the Shuka Sho
• Shahryar(JPN, C3, by Deep Impact), who nosed out race favorite Efforia to claim the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby, G1, 2,400m) title, will commence his fall campaign in the Kobe Shimbun Hai and then will proceed either to the final leg of the three-year-old Triple Crown, the KikukaSho, or the Tenno Sho (Autumn) against older foes
• Danon Kingly (JPN, H5, by Deep Impact), who claimed his much-awaited G1 title in the Yasuda Kinen (G1, 1,600m) by beating defending champion Gran Alegria by a head as a lightly favored eighth choice, will likely run in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) or Mile Championship
Finally, the JRA has officially announced that it will newly establish an international race on the same weekend of the Japan Cup. In addition to the Capital Stakes (Listed, 1,600m) held the day before the Japan Cup, four allowance races (2-wins Class and 3-wins Class) for foreign-trained horses will be scheduled as undercard races. Two foreign contenders per race will be given berths, aiming to entice Japan Cup foreign invitees to bring their stablemates along.