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June 11, 2019 (Tue)

April JRA Graded Stakes Review

The fourth month of the year is a big one for Japanese racing, with four G1 races and plenty of other graded stakes that set up the marathon of G1 events scheduled for May.

As a major prep for the G1 NHK Mile Cup in early May, the 1600m G2 New Zealand Trophy on April 6th at Nakayama Racecourse tends to be an important one. Wide Pharaoh(JPN) took the lead in the first few jumps of the race and went wire to wire holding off late runs by Meisho Shobu(JPN) by Daiwa Major(JPN) and Wittelsbach(JPN) by Rulership(JPN). The score by Wide Pharaoh(JPN) gave his sire, imported Henny Hughes(USA) his first graded stakes win from his Japanese bred offspring, with this colt being from his second crop. Henny Hughes(USA) has proven from past imports to be a very versatile sire, having already had winners on turf and dirt in Japan before his arrival to Yushun Stallion Station in 2014.

Held on April 6th at Hanshin Racecourse, the 1600m G2 Hanshin Himba Stakes is a prep race for the G1 Victoria Mile in mid-May. Six-year-old veteran distaffer Diana Halo(JPN) by King Halo(JPN) set the pace with fellow veteran Yutaka Take in the irons. As she approached the wire, the rest of the field started to move on her, and she wasn't able to hang on. Mikki Charm(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) who had been stalking the pace the entire way got up first and won by a comfortable half a length over Amalfi Coast(JPN) by Daiwa Major(JPN). A neck back in third was Mieno Succeed(JPN) by Stay Gold(JPN) who was able to get her head in front of Diana Halo(JPN). A three-time graded stakes winner, Diana Halo(JPN) valiant effort proved to be all the more impressive given a minor injury was discovered after the race, and she was retired.

The 1600m G3 Arlington Cup at Hanshin Racecourse on April 13th is a final prep for the G1 NHK Mile Cup in early May. It also saw the new Super Sire Lord Kanaloa(JPN) get another graded stakes winner in the filly Iberis(JPN) taking on colts. The filly jumped out of the gate in first position and never looked back. In the final strides, she was able to hold off a fast closing Catedral(JPN) by Heart's Cry(JPN) and Toya Rito Seito(JPN) by Dream Journey(JPN). This filly's win gave Lord Kanaloa(JPN) his eighth graded stakes winner from two crops to race.

The 1600m G2 Milers Cup on April 21st at Kyoto Racecourse saw the return of two G1 milers, Danon Premium(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) and Mozu Ascot(USA) by Frankel(GB). Once the gates opened, it was Guanciale(JPN) by Screen Hero(JPN) in the lead setting the early pace with Danon Premium(JPN) tracking him every step of the way. Guanciale(JPN) hasn't been able to win a graded stakes race since he won the G3 Shinzan Kinen as a three-year-old. He has been a staple of the listed circuit, and his front running style left him second or third quite a lot, but he proved game as he fought hard against a powerful charge by two-year-old champion Danon Premium(USA). Ultimately though he had to give way Danon Premium(JPN) in the final stages of the race to a length and a quarter back in second while Pax Americana(JPN) by Kurofune(USA) was a head behind in third. Mozu Ascot(USA) ran relatively flat for his first run back since December, finished seventh.

The 1800m G3 Antares Stakes on April 14th at Hanshin Racecourse was the only graded dirt race on the JRA calendar for the month of April. It saw the first graded stakes winner for sire I'll Have Another(USA) when sixth favorite Another Truth(JPN) got up for the win by half a length. I'll Have Another(USA) has already been sold back to the United States for stallion duty but has six crops in Japan. Another Truth(JPN) was from the G1 Kentucky Derby winner's first crop. At the top of the stretch, both the eventual winner and Grimm(JPN) by Zenno Rob Roy(JPN) rallied with Grimm(JPN) hitting the lead briefly as the pacesetter tired, but Another Truth(JPN) wore him down and held him off to win by half a length. London Town(JPN) by Kane Hekili(JPN) finished strong and was a neck back in third.

On April 20th in the 1800m G3 Fukushima Himba Stakes at Fukushima Racecourse, ever the bridesmaid Denko Ange(JPN) by Meisho Samson(JPN) finally got up to win a second graded stakes title. The six-year-old has hit the board in multiple graded stakes races over the years, and won a G3 in 2015 and was second in the G1 Victoria Mile in 2017. She sat mid-pack most of the way but pulled away strongly to win by an easy two and a half lengths. Post time favorite Flawless Magic(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) finish a solid second leaving second favorite Danon Grace(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) another length and a quarter back in third.

A last prep race for the G1 Japanese Oaks in the middle of May, the 2000m G2 Flora Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse on April 21st, and the first two horses home get an automatic berth into the Oaks. Jodie(JPN) by Daiwa Major(JPN) set the pace from the start and nearly held on till the end when Shadow Diva(JPN) by Heart's Cry(JPN) squeezed by on the inside and Victoria(JPN) by Victoire Pisa(JPN) came charging on the outside. In a tight photo finish it was Victoria(JPN) who got her nose in front to take home first prize with Shadow Diva(JPN) in second. Jodie held on to finish third a half a length further back.

As the lone middle distance race for older males, the 2000m G3 Niigata Daishoten at Niigata Racecourse on April 29th, had a bit of an upset when seventh favorite Mer de Glace(JPN) by Rulership(JPN) got up for the win after sitting mid-pack during the race G2 winner Mikki Swallow(JPN) by Tosen Homareboshi(JPN), who had been fifth in the G1 Japan Cup last year, broke slow and ran near the back before working his way up to finish second the three fourths of a length after momentarily getting his nose in front before the wire. Late bloomer Rochefort(JPN) by King Kamehameha(JPN) had similar misfortunes early on and was a nose back in third.

The 2400m G2 Aoba Sho on April 27th at Tokyo Racecourse is the final prep race for the G1 Japanese Derby which is held at the end of May. While it doesn't have the best track record of producing Derby winners, the first two home get automatic entry into the Japanese Derby a month later to give it a try. The race was dominated by Lion Lion(JPN), a son of Rulership(JPN) who went wire to wire keeping his nose in front of a determined Run for the Roses(JPN) by King Kamehameha(JPN). Lion Lion(JPN) had the race well in hand when Run for the Roses(JPN) got his engines revved and the two pulled away from the rest of the field, with Peace One Paradis(JPN) by Jungle Pocket(JPN) two lengths back in third.

While jumps racing doesn't play a much of a roll in the flat racing world, Japan is one of the only places in the country where jumps races are held on the same day, at the same track as flat racing. One or two races every weekend are scheduled, and they have a separate pattern for rising the ranks and their own graded stakes system. It might not be as prolific as the National Hunt of Europe, but the prize money is far more lucrative than any other jumps racing circuit in the world. There are two G1 events, one in the spring and one in the fall. This month was the 4250m J-G1 Nakayama Grand Jump which saw the victorious return of Oju Chosan(JPN), winning his sixth J-G1 title and second win back over the jumps since spending the second half of 2018 back on the flat. The eight-year-old son of Stay Gold(JPN) is a major fan favorite, and there is a possibility the master jumper could be seen back on the flat again later this year.

Japanese fillies have been very popular over the past decade with top horses like Vodka(JPN), Daiwa Scarlet(JPN), Apapane(JPN), Buena Vista(JPN), Gentildonna(JPN) and Almond Eye(JPN). All of those fillies won the G1 Oka Sho, except 2007 G1 Japanese Derby winner Vodka who ran 2nd(JPN) to Daiwa Scarlet(JPN). The 2019 renewal of the 1600m G1 Oka Sho at Hanshin Racecourse on April 7th, saw the birth of what could be another exciting female champion, Gran Alegria(JPN), a daughter of Deep Impact(JPN) broke Almond Eye(JPN)'s record in the process. The impressive victory will see the filly move on to the G1 NHK Mile Cup in early May instead of going on to the 2400m G1 Japanese Oaks in the middle of May. Shigeru Pink Dia(JPN), by Daiwa Major(JPN), was second, and Chrono Genesis(JPN) by Bago(FR) was third.

Going into the first leg of the triple crown, there had been a lot of buzz about Saturnalia(JPN), a blue-blooded son of Lord Kanaloa(JPN) who already had won the 2000m G1 Hopeful Stakes as a two-year-old over the same course as the 2000m G1 Satsuki Sho. The third G1 winner out of Cesario(JPN), who herself won the G1 Japanese Oaks and the G1 American Oaks, did not disappoint his massive fan base on April 14th at Nakayama Racecourse and remained unbeaten in four starts getting his head in front of Velox(JPN), a son of Just a Way(JPN). As the likely favorite going into the G1 Japanese Derby at the end of May, he could continue to prove to be just as impressive as fellow Lord Kanaloa(JPN) offspring, Almond Eye(JPN). Danon Kingly(JPN), by Deep Impact(JPN), was third and JRA Two-Year-Old champion Admire Mars(JPN) by Daiwa Major(JPN) was fourth. Admire Mars(JPN) will head to the G1 NHK Mile Cup since a mile seems to be his specialty.

The 3200m G1 Tenno Sho Haru on April 28th at Kyoto Racecourse is one of the longest distance G1 of the JRA calendar and a real test of stamina. So it should be no surprise that the winner of this year's renewal was Fierement(JPN), a son of Deep Impact(JPN) who won this same race back in 2006. Fierement(JPN) was last victorious in the 3000m G1 Kikuka Sho back in October and proved to be the best stayer in Japan this year holding off another offspring of Deep Impact(JPN), Glory Vase(JPN). Perform a Promise(JPN) who finished third is by Stay Gold(JPN) who has sired multiple winners of this race in the past.

All JRA graded stakes results and race replays are available on Japan Association for International Racing, and Stud Book (JAIRS)'s website:

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