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June 22, 2020 (Mon)

May JRA Graded Stakes Review

In late April, the JRA announced that the lockdown for racing would continue through May, which includes five G1 races. It wasn't until a week later that the Japanese Government extended its national state of emergency order through the end of May. Still, it highlighted the great and decisive leadership that the JRA has shown throughout the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. Luckily, the external turmoil has not affected Japanese racing with turnover staying strong and, at times exceeding the previous year's numbers despite only one form of betting, internet betting, being available to bettors.

On May 2nd, the 2400m G2 Aoba Sho at Tokyo Racecourse was a Japanese Derby Trial race. On paper, it looks like it should be an excellent prep for the Derby, but it has not successfully cultivated a winner. At first, it seemed that those chances might change when the talented Authority(JPN) by Orfevre(JPN) made a promising performance to win the trial. He sat mid-pack along the rail, saving ground till he found an opening in the stretch and worked his way up to get his neck in front of Valcos(JPN) by Novellist(IRE). Figilo Allegro(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) was another neck back in third. Unfortunately, Authority(JPN) pulled up with a fracture and was forced to skip the Japanese Derby.

On May 3rd, the 3200m G1 Tenno Sho Spring at Kyoto Racecourse saw history made as Fierement(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) became only the fifth horse in history to win back to back Tenno Sho Springs. As they turned for home, it didn't look like he would be able to get up for the win, but in the final furlong, he kicked into high gear to chase down Stiffelio(JPN) by Stay Gold(JPN) who was loose on the lead. In the end, Fierement(JPN) got his nose in front. Mikki Swallow(JPN) by Tosen Homareboshi(JPN) was two and a half lengths back in third.

On May 9th, the 2200m G2 Kyoto Shimbun Hai at Kyoto Racecourse is a prep race for the G1 Japanese Derby at the end of May. The favorite Admire Virgo(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) as they entered the stretch looked much the winner, but as they field hurdled toward home, he got chased down three other promising colts. As they crossed the finish line, it was Deep Bond(JPN) by Kizuna(JPN), who got their first with a neck to spare over Man of Spirit(JPN) by Rulership(JPN). Falconia(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) was a length and a half back in third. Admire Virgo(JPN), missing his chance to get into the Japanese Derby, was another half-length back in fourth.

On May 10th, the 1600m G1 NHK Mile Cup at Tokyo Racecourse is a popular alternative to the classic series for horses who favor shorter distances. Lauda Sion(JPN) by Real Impact(JPN) posted an upset against favorite Resistencia(JPN) by Daiwa Major(JPN). Last year's Champion Two-Year-Old Filly, Resistencia(JPN) was comfortably in the lead until the 400m mark when the ninth favorite Lauda Sion(JPN) who had been hot on her heels the entire time started to make up ground against her. The filly gave it a gallant shot, having just finished second in last months G1 Oka Sho but by the 200m mark it was clear she was running out of gas, and by the 100m mark, Lauda Sion(JPN) was the clear winner, finishing a length and a half over his famous rival. This was the first G1 win for young sire Real Impact(JPN) and the first G1 win for a son of Deep Impact(JPN) at stud. Gilded Mirror(JPN) by Orfevre(JPN) was third by three-quarters of a length.

Also, on May 10th, the 2000m G3 Niigata Daishoten at Niigata Racecourse had a major upset when tenth favorite Tosen Surya(JPN) by Lohengrin(JPN) rallied for the win. The five-year-old sat off the pace in fourth position for the majority of the race, and with a clear path down the stretch overcame a long duel with Atomic Force(JPN) by Workforce(GB) to win by a length and a half. Precious Blue(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) came flying from the back of the pack to finish third by three-quarters of a length.

On May 16th, the 1400m G2 Keio Hai Spring Cup at Tokyo Racecourse, though technically a sprint can be used as a prep race for the 1600m G1 Yasuda Kinen in early June sometimes. In it, we saw the return to form of Danon Smash(JPN) by Lord Kanaloa(JPN), a popular sprinter who wired the race to win by a convincing length and a quarter over Stelvio(JPN) also by Lord Kanaloa(JPN). Groove It(JPN) completed the Lord Kanaloa(JPN) sired trifecta finishing another three-quarters of a length back in third.

On May 17th, the 1600m G1 Victoria Mile at Tokyo Racecourse was a top-class race with a field full of talented fillies. However, they were overshadowed not only in the news but also at the finish by the incomparable power of Almond Eye(JPN) by Lord Kanaloa(JPN). The 2018 Horse of the Year, made up for her poor 2019 G1 Arima Kinen performance and her coronavirus wrecked return to Dubai with a stunning performance that reminded everyone around the world watching just how amazing she was. Christophe Lemaire and his lovely mare moved effortlessly to overtake the field in the stretch to win by the most perfect four lengths. Sound Chiara(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) was second, and last year's winner Normcore(JPN) by Harbinger(GB) was a neck back in third. Almond Eye(JPN) pulled up so well that her connections will be running her back against the boys in the G1 Yasuda Kinen in early June.

May's lone dirt graded stakes race was on the 23rd, the 1900m G3 Heian Stakes at Kyoto Racecourse. Multiple JPN1 winner Omega Perfume(JPN) by Swept Overboard(USA) found himself back in the JRA winners circle after about a year and a half of near misses and NAR victories. He sat mid-pack early in the race before kicking into gear effortlessly in the stretch. After a brief duel with Vengeance(JPN) by Casino Drive(USA), he surged to win by a confident length and a quarter. Champion Gold Dream(JPN) by Gold Allure(JPN) back from a prematurely aborted trip to Dubai got up to finish third a further two lengths back.

On May 24th, the 2400m G1 Japanese Oaks at Tokyo Racecourse any questions that the masses had about Daring Tact(JPN) 's ability were answered when she stormed home to remain undefeated by a half a length and take the second leg of the Filly Triple Crown. The daughter of Epiphaneia(JPN) was the first filly in 63 years to capture the Oaks as an undefeated contender. Up until the 400m mark, it didn't look like a sure thing for the talented filly as she found herself stuck behind traffic. Her jockey Kohei Matsuyama didn't panic and saw his opening and flipped her switch as they approached the 200m. She showed a brilliant turn of foot and chased down the two leading fillies to capture the Oaks by confident half a length. Win Marilyn(JPN) by Screen Hero(JPN), who has been close to the lead the whole time rallied gamely for second with Win Mighty(JPN) by Gold Ship(JPN) was a neck back in third.

On May 31st, the 2500m G2 Meguro Kinen at Tokyo Racecourse was technically the race after the G1 Japanese Derby. King of Koji(JPN) by Lord Kanaloa(JPN) gave his sprint sire even more stayer credentials. A bit of a late bloomer, the four-year-old colt started to come into himself this year once his connections extended him out beyond a mile for only the second time in January. King of Koji(JPN) was the post-time favorite once they get into the stretch weaved through traffic to hit the lead and win by a confident looking half a length over Ice Bubble(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN). Stay Foolish(JPN) by Stay Gold(JPN), ever the bridesmaid, was another length and a half back in third.

Finally, on May 31st, the 2400m G1 Japanese Derby at Tokyo Racecourse, the grand finale of May. Contrail(JPN), the undefeated winner of the G1 Satsuki Sho last month and the 2019 Champion Two-Year-Old Colt, was the one to beat, stretching out to 2400m for the first time. The pace was slow, and Contrail(JPN) broke well, settling in behind the slow pacesetters along the rail. He angled out in the stretch and got a clean run. Jockey Yuichi Fukunaga waited until he could see a charging Salios(JPN) by Heart's Cry(JPN) come up to the outside of his colt, and that is when he hit the go button. The nearly all-black son of Deep Impact(JPN) surged to the lead quickly and won by an astonishingly easy three lengths. Salios(JPN) was second, and Weltreisende(JPN) by Dream Journey(JPN) was a length and three quarters back in third. Contrail(JPN) is the first undefeated Derby winner since his sire Deep Impact(JPN) back in 2005. He will head on to the G1 Kikuka Sho in October to complete the Triple Crown just as his sire did fifteen years ago.

The end of the springtime classic races brings with it a bit of history as it is the first time undefeated horses captured both sets of the male and female classics. A great way to end a month marred by a global pandemic.

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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