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May 16, 2019 (Thu)

March JRA Graded Stakes Review

March was a big month in the JRA with a slew of classic prep races as the first legs are all in April and two exciting G1 events at the end of the month.

The 1600m G2 Tulip Sho at Hanshin Racecourse on March 2nd was the first of three preps for the first leg of the Filly Triple Crown, the G1 Oka Sho(Japanese 1000 Guineas) in early-April. The three-year-old filly division had been looking forward to the debut of the 2018 Champion Two-year-old filly, Danon Fantasy(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN). She did not disappoint in her 2019 debut, winning easily by one length over Daiwa Major(JPN) sired Shigeru Pink Dia(JPN) and Noble Score(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN). All three of these fillies have earned an automatic berth into the G1 Oka Sho(Japanese 1000 Guineas) on April 7th.

The 2000m G2 Yayoi Sho at Nakayama Racecourse on March 3rd was one of three main prep races for the G1 Satsuki Sho(Japanese 2000 Guineas) and brought with it some major upsets. The two most popular horses in the race were dual G3 winner Nishino Daisy(JPN), and G3 winner Last Draft(JPN) however neither ultimately hit the board. The spoils went to Meisho Tengen(JPN) a Deep Impact(JPN) colt out of dual G2 winner and G1 placed Meisho Beluga(JPN). The grey colt, the post time 8th favorite, sat mid back for most of the ten furlong contest before starting to make his move in the turn for home. He made quite the statement, winning by a length and a half, over 6th favorite Schwarz Riese(JPN) who is by Heart's Cry(JPN). Breaking Dawn(JPN) by Victoire Pisa(JPN) was third.

The March 10th 1400m G2 Fillies' Revue at Hanshin Racecourse had a thrilling photo finish, ending in a dead heat. 12th favorite No One(JPN) by Heart's Cry(JPN) was far back in the pack and thanks to a gutsy and aggressive ride by Ryusei Sakai, back from a long apprenticeship in Australia, gets his mount up in time to cross the wire with 3rd favorite Pourville(JPN) by Le Havre(IRE). Juranville(JPN) by Kinshasa no Kiseki(AUS) was half a length back in third. All three fillies have earned a place in the gate of the G1 Oka Sho on April 7th.

The March 16th 1800m G3 Flower Cup at Nakayama Racecourse isn't always used as a prep race for the G1 Oka Sho given its position in the calendar, but some horses hoping to get into the first leg of the filly's triple crown can use it as a last shot to get into the classic race. Contra Check(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) ran away with the race, breaking fast and going wire to wire to win by two and a half lengths. Favorite Aile Voix(JPN) by Victoire Pisa(JPN) made her move as they came for home from mid-pack to claim second, a nose over Rambling Alley(JPN) also by Deep Impact(JPN).

The 1400m G3 Falcon Stakes on March 16th at Chukyo Racecourse is aimed at three-year-olds who might not be the classic distance type horses. The seven-furlong contest can often feed into the 1600m G1 NHK Mile Cup in early May. From a pedigree perspective, Harbinger(GB) offspring don't usually seem to be the sprinter type but Happy Hour(JPN) is proving that wrong, capturing his first graded stakes title and third sprint outing, coming from the back of the pack to for a dramatic finish. Groove It(JPN), from the female line of the great Air Groove(JPN) and by sizzling hot sire Lord Kanaloa(JPN) got caught just before the wire to finish second by three-fourths of a length. Rosen Krieger(JPN) by Novellist(IRE) was left behind by three lengths but held on to finish third.

The 1800m G2 Spring Stakes at Nakayama on March 17th has been a great source of G1 Satsuki Sho success in the past. This year ended in a major upset with the 10th favorite Emeral Fight(JPN), by reliable sire Kurofune(USA) over the post time favorite Fantasist(JPN) by Lord Kanaloa(JPN). Kurino Gaudi(JPN) set the pace up until the stretch when he lost his position of others as they made their charge for home. Emeral Fight(JPN) had been biding his time mid-pack and was within striking distance as they turned for home. The embattled favorite, Fantasist(JPN), missed the break and was stuck far back in the pack for the majority of the race and wasn't able to make up much of that ground until the stretch where he went from 8th position to second, missing the top prize by only a head. Dixie Knight(JPN) by Daiwa Major(JPN) was third.

The last G1 Satsuki Sho prep race was on March 23rd, the 1800m G3 Mainichi Hai at Hanshin Racecourse. Three-year-olds all competing to earn a spot into the first leg of the Japanese Triple Crown but unlike other preps, only the winner is likely to earn enough prize money to be able to get a chance to run in it. Cape Blanco(IRE) had his first graded stakes winner with Lance of Puraana(JPN) who wired the race, holding on just long enough to keep his neck in front of Ulili(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN). Ulili(JPN) is the full brother of 2016 Japan Derby winner Makahiki(JPN). Vin de Garde(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN), who was the post time favorite blew the start but worked his way up to finish third.

The March 30th 1600m G3 Lord Derby Challenge Trophy at Nakayama Racecourse saw another foreign-bred import take top honors in the JRA, this time with the five-year-old Fiano Romano(AUS) by Fastnet Rock(AUS). It was his 6th victory, but his first graded stakes win, and he held off another filly who can trace her origins back to Australia as well, Primo Scene(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) and out of four-time Australian G1 winner Mosheen(AUS). Fiano Romano(AUS) sat off the pace and made his move with My Style(JPN) by Heart's Cry(JPN) and Primo Scene(JPN) charging after him. Primo Scene(JPN) gets her nose in front of My Style(JPN) to finish second.

On March 2nd at Nakayama Racecourse, the final prep race for the G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen, the 1200m G3 Ocean Stakes went off to crown an exciting new graded stakes winner, Mozu Superflare(USA) by Speightstown(USA). The four-year-old rose through the ranks last year, proving to be a wicked fast filly. Though she doesn't always fire right, she has continually improved, and her performance in the Ocean Stakes is proof she is ready for the G1 level. She finished a length an a quarter clear of another hard fighting sprint mare, Nac Venus(JPN) by Daiwa Major(JPN). Year after year she has proven formidable at the graded stakes level, and she continued that in this race. Daimei Fuji(JPN) by Agnes Digital(USA) was third.

The 1800m G3 Nakayama Himba Stakes at Nakayama Racecourse is one of a handful of graded stakes made just for the distaff division in the JRA. There was a bit of an upset in this race when 5th favorite Frontier Queen(JPN) by Meisho Samson(JPN) finished with her nose in front. The six-year-old mare made sat mid-pack early on before mounting a strong rally in the stretch holding off equally strong rallies from Uranus Charm(JPN) by Rulership who finished seconf by a nose and Affilato(JPN) by Deep Impact who finished third by a neck.

The March 24th 1800m G3 March Stakes at Nakayama Racecourse was the only dirt race in March, and it saw six-year-old Satono Titan(JPN) by Symboli Kris S(USA) get his first graded stakes victory. He came from the back of a pack to finish strongly by a length and a quarter over London Town(JPN) by the late Kane Hekili(JPN). Regent Rock(JPN) by Daiwa Major(JPN) was a neck back in third.

The 2000m G2 Kinko Sho at Chukyo Racecourse on March 10th has become a quality G2 race with the upgrade of the Osaka Hai to G1 status a few years ago. With five individual G1 winners, five other graded stakes winners and three more who have been graded stakes-placed, every single member had a quality resume. 2017 Champion Two-Year-Old Colt Danon Premium(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) who suffered foot problems much of last year was back on full display here, winning confidently by a length and a quarter. Lys Gracieux(JPN) by Heart's Cry(JPN) was who has always had a bad habit of being the bridesmaid continued that pattern, finishing second for the eighth time of her career. Air Windsor(JPN) by Daiwa Major(JPN) was third.

A significant prep for the G1 Tenno Sho Haru in late April, the 2500m G2 Nikkei Sho on March 23rd at Nakayama Racecourse was won spectacularly by four-year-old Meisho Tekkon(JPN) from the second to last crop of Manhattan Cafe(JPN). The nearly black colt broke sharp and went wire to the wire in the marathon of a race, to win comfortably by a length and a quarter. Post time favorite and promising stayer Etario(JPN) by Stay Gold(JPN) tried his best to chase him down but had to settle for second. Eight-year-old Sakura Empereur(JPN) by King Kamehameha(JPN) held on well to finish another length and a quarter behind in third.

On March 17th there was another major prep race for the G1 Tenno Sho Haru in late April, the 3000m G2 Hanshin Daishoten at Hanshin Racecourse. It saw the continuation of Sciacchetra(JPN)'s epic come back tour, who had also captured the G2 American Jockey Club Cup in January. After a career plagued with injuries, missing the entire year of 2018, the six-year-old son of the late Manhattan Cafe(JPN) was back in a big way, having not lost a step. Kafuji Prince(JPN) by Heart's Cry(JPN) was five lengths back in second, and Lord Vent d'Or(JPN) by Daiwa Major(JPN) was another two and a half lengths back in third. Unfortunately, during his final breeze before the G1 Tenno Sho Haru, Sciacchetra(JPN) suffered a catastrophic breakdown and had to be euthanized on April 17th. As the likely favorite, it was a significant loss for Japan's stayers division.

March 24th's 1200m G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen at Chukyo Racecourse is one of only two G1s for sprinters in Japan, and this year's race was made up of a lot of promising up and coming sprinters, making the divisions future quite exciting. Ultimately the post time favorite failed to fire, but the world-famous sire line of Scat Daddy(USA) claimed its first Japanese G1 title when third favorite Mr Melody(USA) got up to win his first G1 title. Scat Daddy(USA) has had success all over the world, though along with that success has also made his last few crops very popular and expensive, limiting the number of available offspring imported into Japan. 2017 G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen winner Seiun Kosei(JPN) by Admire Moon(JPN) was caught at the wire to finish half a length back in second. Shonan Anthem(JPN) by Jungle Pocket(JPN) made up tremendous ground, coming from the back of the pack to finish third.

The highlight of the month was probably the 2000m G1 Osaka Hai at Hanshin Racecourse on March 31st. It had a stellar cast of characters including eight previous G1 winners, which included two Derby winners, and three other classic winners. This year's renewal saw the triumphant return of 2017 G1 Satsuki Sho winner Al Ain(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) to a G1 winners circle. The whole field finished only necks apart, but after stalking pace setters G1 winner Epoca d'Oro(JPN) by Orfevre(JPN) and G1 winner Kiseki(JPN) by Rulership(JPN). The five-year-old landed his first win since he won claimed the first leg of the 2017 Triple Crown, nearly two years prior. Kiseki(JPN), who has been having a case of seconditis the past year finished a neck back in second. 2018 Derby winner Wagnerian(JPN) was a neck back in third about three-fourths of a length in front of stablemate and 2016 Derby winner Makahiki(JPN), both are by Deep Impact(JPN).


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