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May 26, 2020 (Tue)

April JRA Graded Stakes Review

As Japan starts its State of Emergency, the JRA continues on racing with a line up of strict new rules to protect their horsemen and racing in general against COVID19. Most of the rules did not affect graded stakes racing in Japan on the whole, but one rule does change a fundamental aspect of racing each week, jockeys can not move between tracks during the weekend. If a jockey wants to ride a particular horse on Sunday at one track, they must also ride there on Saturday. This is likely to impact the G2s and G3s on Saturday as we enter the long stretch of springtime G1 races, all held on Sunday.

The JRA has been one of the few major racing jurisdictions in the world to be able to implement rules well enough for the government to permit them to continue holding weekly events. While COVID19 has changed nearly everyone's life on the planet, Japanese racing continues as strong as ever.

On April 4th, the G3 1600m Lord Derby Challenge Trophy at Nakayama Racecourse saw the eight-year-old Kluger(JPN) get into the winner's circle for the first time in four years. The son of King Kamehameha(JPN) made headlines in April 2019 when he went down to Australia and ran second the champion Winx(AUS) in the G1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes, his best results since January 2018 when he ran second in the G3 Kyoto Kimpai. He broke well and sat mid-pack off the pace as they charged down the backstretch and into the far turn. As they turned for home, with no traffic in his way, the veteran racehorse geared up and launched into his stretch drive. He hit the lead at about the 100m mark to win a comfortable two lengths over Bom Servico(JPN) by Daiwa Major(JPN). Leyenda(JPN) by King Kamehameha(JPN), a full brother to G1 Japanese Derby winner Rey de Oro(JPN), was a nose back in third.

On April 5th the G1 2000m Osaka Hai at Hanshin Racecourse missed out on being a much better race due to the last-minute decision to cancel the Dubai World Cup leaving most of Japan's most talented horses including Almond Eye(JPN) by Lord Kanaloa(JPN) stranded temporarily in Dubai which cause many horses to miss out on many early Spring G1s. An old rival of Almond Eye(JPN) didn't mind at all when Lucky Lilac(JPN) by Orfevre(JPN) gamely take on G1 winner Chrono Genesis(JPN) by Bago(FR) and post time favorite Danon Kingly(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) and win by a neck. Chrono Genesis(JPN) was second, and Danon Kingly(JPN) was another neck back in third.

On April 11th, the G2 1600m New Zealand Trophy at Nakayama Racecourse was a prep race for the G1 NHK Mile Cup in early May. Luftstrom(JPN) by Kinshasa no Kiseki(AUS) became his sire's fifth graded stakes winner to date. The colt sat near the back of the pack during the early stages of the race, swinging wide in the turn for home. He charged down the center of the track to catch up with Season's Gift(JPN) by Epiphaneia(JPN) near the wire to win by a half a length. Win Greatest(JPN) by Screen Hero(JPN), who was on Luftstrom(JPN)'s heels the entire stretch run was a neck back in third.

Also, on April 11th, the G2 1600m Hanshin Himba Stakes at Hanshin Racecourse was a prep for the G1 Victoria Mile in mid-May. Sound Chiara(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) captured her second graded win of the year, having won the G3 Kyoto Himba Stakes back in February. She broke well and stalked the pace in fifth position early on taking cover on the rail. As the pack turned for home, the leaders spread out, giving the mare ample room to make her bid. She launched into a power closing stride and with a furlong to go, hit the lead to win by a comfortable length and a half. Scarlet Color(JPN) by Victoire Pisa(JPN) was second, and Dimension(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) was a neck back in third.

On April 12th, the G1 1600m Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) at Hanshin Racecourse is the first of the classic races for three-year-old fillies in Japan. Last year's Champion Two-Year-Old Resistencia(JPN) by Daiwa Major(JPN) was the favorite, but the glory went to Daring Tact(JPN) by Epiphaneia(JPN). Even though she was going into the race as the second favorite, she has one of the lightest resumes of all the contenders in the race with just two starts to her name. She had impressively won a Listed race back in February, which likely played into her being heavily favored over other graded stakes proven fillies. The yielding turf didn't seem to bother her much as she sat near the back of the pack in the early stages of the race. She came wide in the stretch and charged down the center of the track. Resistencia(JPN) looked like the winner for a while despite a lot of encouragement from her jockey, but Daring Tact(JPN) cruised right past her with a few meters to go to win by a solid length and a half. Smile Kana(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) was a length and three quarters back in third.

On April 18th, the G3 1600m Arlington Cup at Hanshin Racecourse was a G1 NHK Mile trail race. Favorite Taisei Vison(JPN) proved much the best winning the race by two lengths giving his sire, the late Turtle Bowl(IRE) his second graded stakes winner. He broke sharp but settled in towards the back of the pack. As they moved into the stretch, his jockey expertly moved him towards the inside as the pack spread out, saving much-needed ground as they charged towards the finish line. Gilded Mirror(JPN) by Orfevre(JPN) was second, and Prince Return(JPN) by Strong Return(JPN) was a neck back in third.

On April 19th the G1 2000m Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) at Nakayama Racecourse is the first leg of the Japanese Triple Crown and favorite Contrail(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN), who was also last year's Champion Two-Year-Old colt lived up to the hype to claim the first crown. He had everything going against him, however, breaking from the far inside, a post that has little to no success in the past ten years, but his jockey Yuichi Fukunaga rode him brilliantly to make sure the draw would not affect the colt's ultimate performance. They sat near the back of the pack early on, and as they neared the turn for home, Fukunaga worked his mount nimbly to the outside and moved him up closer to be in stalking position as they turned for home. As they thundered down the stretch, it was the only two G1 winners of their generation in a duel, Contrail(JPN) and Salios(JPN) by Heart's Cry(JPN). They battled it out for the final furlong with Contrail(JPN) getting the advantage in the last few strides to win by half a length. Galore Creek(JPN) by Kinshasa no Kiseki(AUS) was another three and a half lengths back in third.

Also, on April 19th, the G3 1800m Antares Stakes at Hanshin Racecourse was the month's lone dirt race. Veteran Westerlund(JPN), an eight-year-old gelding by Neo Universe(JPN), scored his first graded stakes win, though he had previously run second in the G1 Champions Cup back in 2018. He broke well but settled into the second to last position early on in the race. He was still far in the back as they entered into the final turn, but he was flying along the outside. He hit the lead quickly and held off all challengers to win by a length and three quarters. Another Truth(JPN) by I'll Have Another(USA) was second, and Clincher(JPN) by Deep Sky(JPN) was a nose back in third.

On April 25th, the G3 1800m Fukushima Himba Stakes at Fukushima Racecourse was another race that can be used as a prep for the G1 Victoria Mile in mid-May. Breaking wide didn't bother Fairy Polka(JPN) by Rulership(JPN) much as she comfortably settled near the back of the pack in the early stages of the race. The third favorite was still reasonably far back as they hit the stretch, but her jockey sat patiently till a hole opened up as they straightened out for the gallop home. The four-year-old filly showed a quick turn of foot at the final furlong pole and took the lead. She held on well to win by three-quarters of a length over a fast closing Liebfraumilch(JPN) by Stay Gold(JPN). Randonnee(USA) by Blame(USA) was a length and a quarter back in third.

On April 26th, the G2 2000m Flora Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse was a G1 Japanese Oaks trial. Win Marilyn(JPN) by Screen Hero(JPN) posted a slight upset in the trial when favorite Sky Groove(JPN) by Epiphaneia(JPN) failed to fire. Win Marilyn(JPN) stalked the pace on the inside till they came to the 400m mark, where she pushed her way through and took the lead. She was able to hang on and keep her neck in front of a fast closing Ho O Peaceful(JPN) by Orfevre(JPN). Juana(JPN) by Rulership(JPN) was another neck back in third.

Also, on Apt 26th, the G2 Milers Cup at Kyoto Racecourse is a prep race for the G1 Yasuda Kinen held in early June. Last year's G1 Yasuda Kinen winner Indy Champ(JPN) was back to his winning ways after a disappointing run in the G1 Hong Kong Mile back in December and a lackluster fourth-place finish in the G2 Nakayama Kinen back in March. The son of Stay Gold(JPN) expertly stalked the pace throughout the race and launched into action in the straight to win by a very easy looking two lengths. Besten Dank(JPN) by Taiki Shuttle(USA) was second, and Vin de Garde(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) was a further length and a half back in third.

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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