Top racing action is back just over a month from the February Stakes. This Sunday, March 24, Nagoya’s Chukyo Racecourse will host 2019’s first Grade 1 event over turf – the 1,200-meter Takamatsunomiya Kinen, a race that decides the spring’s top sprinter.
Twenty-two horses 4 years old and up, including seven fillies and mares, have been nominated for the race’s 49th running. Eighteen of those, ranging in age from 4 to 11, will leave the gate at 3:40 p.m. Sunday. The final draw will be announced on Friday morning.
This year puts the spotlight on champion sprinter Lord Kanaloa’s first crop, represented here by expected race favorite Danon Smash, but any number of newcomers or veterans could conceivably take home the ¥110 million winner’s share. The favorite has only won three times in the past 10 runnings, but double-digit picks have made it into the top three just as often.
Races are run to the left at Chukyo, as they are at Tokyo and Niigata. Like Tokyo, Chukyo is not for lightweights. The course slopes upwards after turning into the straight and continues to the finish for over 400 meters, demanding both power and stamina.
The Takamatsunomiya Kinen is the 11th race of 12 on Sunday at Chukyo Racecourse.
Fillies and mares carry 55 kg, all others 57 kg.
Here’s at look at some of the expected top picks.
Danon Smash – The Lord Kanaloa-sired 4-year-old Danon Smash has brought home 4 wins and a second since moving to 6 furlongs, thus winning him the lion’s share of attention going into the Takamatsunomiya Kinen. His last three starts, all Grade 3 events, saw him finish second behind Nac Venus in the Keeneland Cup at Sapporo last summer, scoop the Nov. 25 Keisei Hai at Kyoto and start this year with a win of the Silk Road Stakes at Kyoto in January. He’s quick out of the gate, moves easily to within striking distance and has excellent responses and speed. This fellow is considered ready for a Grade 1 win. He’s best over fast ground but has fared well over softer. Though his three starts racing to the left have failed to bring him a win, he did run second in his debut at Niigata. Trainer Takayuki Yasuda is optimistic. “Physically, he’s much more solid compared to last year.” Slated for the ride is the Ritto-based Yuichi Kitamura, who has ridden Smash’s last six runs. Kitamura debuted in 2006 and despite 45 Grade 1 experiences to date and a formidable 90 JRA wins last year, is still gunning for a top-level victory.
Mozu Superflare – Taking on her first Grade 1 is the American-bred speedster Mozu Superflare, a 4-year-old by Speightstown, winner of the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Mozu Superflare, with six wins from 14 starts has had difficulty settling and though she still lacks patience, she has matured to where she can hold her ground. She has made the top three in her last five starts, moved slowly up in level and captured her first graded-stakes race last out wire to wire in the 1,200-meter Yukan Fuji Sho Ocean Stakes on March 2 at Nakayama. She clocked 11.4 seconds over the first furlong, covered the first half in 32.3 seconds and still had enough to give for a 34.8 over the latter half and was able to top Nac Venus by over a length. Previously raced twice at Chukyo, Mozu Superflare’s last run there brought her a fifth in the Chunichi Sports Sho Falcon Stakes (G3, 1,400 meters) last March. “She’s totally different from that race,” says trainer Hidetaka Otonashi. “She’s much stronger now.” However, the Takamatsunomiya Kinen has only been won twice wire to wire since the race became a Grade 1 race in 1996. Shonan Kampf (represented here by Love Kampf) did it in 2002 and Laurel Guerreiro in 2009. Expected to be in the saddle is Yutaka Take, who rode the winner in this year’s February Stakes. Take is two for two with Mozu Superflare.
Let’s Go Donki – Runnerup in both last year’s race and the year previous, 2015 Oka Sho winner Let’s Go Donki is taking on the Takamatsunomiya Kinen for four years straight. Though now 7 years old, this daughter of King Kamehameha is giving little indication of slowing down. After her Takamatsunomiya Kinen run last year, she made the board in five of six starts, three of them Grade 1 level events. Last out she ran second in her first start of the year, the Hankyu Hai, (G3, 1,400 meters) at Hanshin on Feb. 24. Always a big girl, she weighed in at 506 kg and is expected to show improvement this time out. Let’s Go Donki has won only one win in her 25 starts following her Oka Sho victory, but she has consistently finished in second or third place despite being given a rather mixed bag of turf and dirt races and distances from 6 to 8 furlongs. She should be fresher this year, not having had a Hong Kong trip to recover from as she did last year and also having skipped the February Stakes.
Nac Venus – Nac Venus surprised as the third-place finisher last year at only 10th pick of the day, which helped boost the winning trifecta to an over 600-fold return. Like last year, the now 6-year-old daughter of Daiwa Major is going in to the Takamatsunomiya Kinen off a second-place finish in the March 2 Ocean Stakes at Nakayama. But unlike last year, she sat out the Silk Road Stakes after running in the Carbuncle Stakes in early January. She has held her ground admirably in both her last two starts running second behind Mozu Superflare, even doing so running under a full 5 kg less in the Carbuncle Stakes. With only two full weeks between races, trainer Hiroaki Sugiura says he’s giving Nac Venus relatively light work. “Her summer bids at Sapporo and Hakodate did affect her autumn starts (a seventh in the Grade 1 Sprinters Stakes and 15th in the open-class JBC Sprint), but this time she’ll go to the gate in better shape.”
Dea Regalo – The 5-year-old Dea Regalo aced her last start, the Feb. 16 Kyoto Himba Stakes (G3, 1,400 meters), even though her weight had increased 32 kg since her race 3 1/2 months prior. Still, it represented only a 10-kg increase from her top weight of 476 kg the year before for the same race. Trainer Masahiro Otake says, “Last out, I think her being a bit heavy may have helped her mentally, or maybe it was the fast pace. I think it will be much busier this time over 6 furlongs and she is, as before, looking quite big. She came back from the farm at 500 kg and her weight may be up from last start.” A chronic poor starter, the daughter of Manhattan Cafe is also now consistently sharp out of the gate. One concern is the fact that she has failed to perform to the left, having finished 16th and 6th in her only two counterclockwise starts, both at Tokyo.
Logi Cry – The Heart’s Cry-sired 6-year-old Logi Cry is being given the first 1,200-meter race of his career, which has thus far brought him five wins from 16 outings, with a total 10 finishes in the top three spots. Having been raced all but once over the mile, he took on 1,400 meters for the first time last out in the Hankyu Hai (G3, Hanshin) on Feb. 24. He finished third just over 2 lengths off the winner. “With the long homestretch at Chukyo, I think he should be able to handle his first 1,200,” says trainer Naosuke Sugai. Experienced racing to the left, Logi Cry ran second last year in the Toyota Sho Chukyo Kinen, a Grade 3 mile at the Nagoya track. He recently clocked a personal best up the hill course.
Daimei Princess – The 6-year-old Daimei Princess was sired by 2000 Takamatsunomiya Kinen champion King Halo. Now 25 races into her career, Daimei Princess only stepped up to the graded-stakes level last summer and took on her first Grade 1 last September – the Sprinters Stakes at Nakayama. She finished fourth in that only 0.2 seconds behind winner Fine Needle and ahead of Let’s Go Donki and Nac Venus. Though her results were poor in her two races hence (a sixth in the Silk Road Stakes on Jan. 27 and a 10th in the Ocean Stakes on March 2) and she has been slow out of the gate over her last three starts, Daimei Princess shouldn’t be dismissed.
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Another to watch is Ares Barows, who has won at the Grade 3 level over the Chukyo 1,200. Last out, he overcame a wide draw to finish fifth in the Silk Road Stakes only 0.4 seconds behind winner Danon Smash, who carried 1 kg less. Also interesting is Mr Melody, who though 7th in the Hankyu Hai, finished only 0.1 seconds behind Logi Cry in that race after bumping into another horse coming into the stretch. It will be Mr Melody’s first 1,200 on turf, but he has proven successful at Chukyo at the Grade 3 level over 7 furlongs.