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December 28, 2020 (Mon)

November JRA Graded Stakes Review

The second to last month of the year turned out to be even more exciting for fans of Japanese racing than the dual Triple Crown filled October, with most of the attention going to a historic running of the 40th G1 Japan Cup where champion Almond Eye(JPN) was to go up against the two undefeated Triple Crown winners Contrail(JPN) and Daring Tact(JPN). The month was also full of many other exciting graded stakes races.

The month started with a bang in the 2000m G1 Tenno Sho Autumn at Tokyo Racecourse on November 1st with Almond Eye(JPN) by Lord Kanaloa(JPN) stepping back into the winners circle to win back to back Emperor's Cup Autumns, something that has only been achieved by one other horse in the history of the race, Symboli Kris S(USA) in 2002 and 2003. It also gave her a long-awaited 8th G1 title, an achievement no Japanese racehorse before her has ever accomplished. She didn't win by her usual margins but did everything she needed to do to hold off a closing Fierement(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) by half a length. Chrono Genesis(JPN) by Bago(FR) was a neck back in third.

The 1400m G2 Keio Hai Nisai Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse on November 7th ended in a thriller as Mondreise(JPN) by Daiwa Major(JPN) held off a fast closing Lord Max(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) by a neck. Mondreise(JPN) broke well and sat just behind the pacesetter through the race's early stages before hitting the lead at about the 500m mark. He expertly held off all advances to get his neck in front at the end. Yngvi(JPN) by Musee Sultan(JPN) was a neck back in third.

The 1400m G3 Fantasy Stakes at Hanshin Racecourse on November 7th was a second graded stakes win for Meikei Yell(JPN) by Mikki Isle(JPN). The filly, who picked up her first G3 back in September, is from the same family that produced fellow undefeated two-year-old filly Sodashi(JPN) but lacks her family's signature white coloration. She broke sharp and stalked the pace. She swung wide in the stretch and wore down the fillies in front of her, and hit the lead at the 100m mark before crossing the finish line. Opal Moon(JPN) by Victoire Pisa(JPN) came charging from the back of the pack and, despite a solid stretch run, was three-quarters of a length back in second. Love Kelly(JPN) by Curren Black Hill(JPN) was a further length and a quarter back in third.

The 2500m G2 Copa Republican Argentina at Tokyo Racecourse on November 8th is a long-distance marathon that has in the past produced a Japan Cup winner. In 2008 Screen Hero(JPN), the sire of champion Maurice(JPN), captured this G2 before winning the Japan Cup later that month. This year, Authority(JPN) by Orfevre(JPN) proved earlier this year to be a promising rising star in the stayer community hit the scene to win the G2 Aoba Sho before being scratched from the G1 Japanese Derby due to an injury. This was his first race back since that win in early May, and he made it clear he was no worse for wear. He expertly stalked the pace throughout, sitting in third position. He was angled a bit wide into the stretch and got to the lead at about the 300m mark before hitting a fresh stride at the 200m mark, where he pulled away to win by a comfortable length and a half over Last Draft(JPN) by Novellist(IRE). A fast closing Sun Appleton(JPN) by Zenno Rob Roy(JPN) came blazing down the stretch to finish a neck back in third.

In the 1800m, G3 Miyako Stakes at Hanshin Racecourse on November 8th, Clincher(JPN) by Deep Sky(JPN) was finally able to clinch his first graded dirt title since switching to the surface at the beginning of this year. The six-year-old is a G2 winner on turf and even traveled to France to participate in the G1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in 2018, but after not being able to find his footing over turf during all of last year, he switched to dirt for 2020. It was a promising start with multiple runner up efforts through the summer. He stalked the pace throughout before taking the lead in the stretch and winning by a comfortable three lengths over History Maker(JPN) by Empire Maker(USA). Acorn(JPN) by Furioso(JPN) was a further four lengths back in third.

The 1600m G3 Musashino Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse on November 14th, much like the G3 Miyako Stakes, are great prep races for the G1 Champions Cup in December. This race can cater more to those who might not be as adept at handling the full 1800m of next month's G1 challenge, and the winner here is likely in that category. Sunrise Nova(JPN) by Gold Allure(JPN) had won three other mile or less G3s over the JRA's dirt during his long career and even captured the JPN1 Nambu Hai last year, which is also over a mile. He is a strong contender over the distance, and he proved that on the day with a powerful stretch run from the back of the pack to win by three-quarters of a length. Soliste Thunder(JPN) by Toby's Corner(USA) was second, and Air Spinel(JPN) by King Kamehameha(JPN) was a length and a quarter back in third.

In the 1600m, G2 Daily Hai Nisai Stakes at Hanshin Racecourse on November 14th, favorite Red Belle Aube(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) got his head in front at the wire after an epic stretch duel with second favorite Ho O Amazon(JPN) by King Kamehameha(JPN). The two are likely to come up against each other again in the G1 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes in December as well. Super Hope(JPN) by Kizuna(JPN) was third by a length and a quarter.

In the 2200m, G1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Hanshin Racecourse on November 15th, favorite Lucky Lilac(JPN) by Orfevre(JPN) became only the fourth mare to win back to back runnings of the race and even set a race record time in doing so. While it was not a dominant win, she overcame a wide break to hit the lead early in the stretch and held off a fast-closing Salacia(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) by a neck. 2019 Japanese Oaks winner Loves Only You(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) was third by a neck. The mare has been remarkably consistent during her career, and this was her fourth G1 title of her career. She had the bad luck to be born into the same crop as Almond Eye(JPN), which affected her three-year-old campaign the most, but since then, she has managed to find a great niche for herself in the 2000 and beyond category, beating the best of her sex and the boys. She will make her last career start in the G1 Arima Kinen at the end of the year.

The 2000m G3 Fukushima Kinen at Fukushima Racecourse on November 15th set a different kind of record in the JRA. Jockey Kenichi Ikezoe, best known internationally as the jockey of Orfevre(JPN), got up to win with Bio Spark(JPN) by Orfevre(JPN) and with it completed the fun goal of winning at least one graded stakes race at all ten JRA racetracks in the country. Bio Spark(JPN) sat mid-pack through the race's early stages, saving ground on the inside. He wore down fifth favorite Territorial(JPN) by Teofilo(IRE) in the final strides and held off favorite Vin Quet Domingo(JPN) by Rulership(JPN) by a neck. Territorial(JPN) was a length back in third.

The 1600m G1 Mile Championship at Hanshin Racecourse on November 22nd was all about star mare Gran Alegria(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN), who just last month had wowed everyone with a stunning performance in the G1 Sprinters Stakes. She was back again to take on the best milers in the country, many of whom she had already beaten in the G1 Yasuda Kinen this past summer. It proved just as easy this time, even though the margins were not as significant as in her past two G1 victories this year. This was the filly's fourth career G1 title and third just in 2020. She had only one blemish on her exceptional record in the G1 NHK Mile Cup last year. Outside of that fifth-place finish, she has won seven of her ten starts and been second and third in two other G1 races. Out of those ten races, seven have been G1 races, and her debut race is the only non-graded start on her form. Based on her 2020 season, she will be an exciting filly to follow in 2021. She sat mid-pack in the race, and Christophe Lemaire had her in a comfortable spot throughout, so when it was time for the filly to give her signature burst of speed, it only took a few strides to take the lead and win easily in hand, exerting only minimal effort to win the race. Indy Champ(JPN) by Stay Gold(JPN) was second by three-quarters of a length, and Admire Mars(JPN) by Daiwa Major(JPN) was a neck back in third.

The 1800m G3 Tokyo Sports Hai Nisai Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse on November 23rd will likely see its victor go on to the 2000m G1 Hopeful Stakes at the end of the year instead of the mile-long G1 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes especially given how well Danon the Kid(JPN) by Just a Way(JPN) handled the distance. As the favorite going into the race, he stalked the pace in third position before wearing down his competition in the stretch to win by a solid length and a quarter. Titleholder(JPN) by Duramente(JPN) was second, and Jun Blue Sky(JPN) also by Duramente(JPN) was three-quarters of a length back in third.

The 2000m G3 Kyoto Nisai Stakes at Hanshin Racecourse on November 28th is another race likely to feed into the G1 Hopeful Stakes due to its length. Despite racing wide most of the way around, third favorite Wonderful Town(JPN) by Rulership(JPN) was able to dig deep in the stretch to wear down his rivals to prevail by three-quarters of a length. Lagom(JPN) by Orfevre(JPN) was second, and Machaon d'Or (JPN) by Gold Ship(JPN) another three-quarters of a length back in third.

In the 1200m, G3 Keihan Hai at Hanshin Racecourse on November 29th, Fiano Romano(AUS) by Fastnet Rock(AUS) claimed his second graded stakes title when he worked his way to the lead just in time to cross the wire with his neck in front. The six-year-old has been hit or miss over the years, and this was his first successful attempt at six furlongs despite carrying top weight. He sat mid-pack early on before being angled wide as they came around the turn for home. Curren Moe(JPN) by Lord Kanaloa(JPN) was second, and Jo Arabica(JPN) by Jo Cappuccino(JPN) was another neck back in third.

The 2400m G1 Japan Cup at Tokyo Racecourse on November 29th was promoted as the best renewal of the race in many years since it not only had the superstar mare Almond Eye(JPN) by Lord Kanaloa(JPN) participating but also include both of the year's undefeated Triple Crown winners Contrail(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) and Daring Tact(JPN) by Epiphaneia(JPN). It was indeed a clash of the titans in the 40th running of the Japan Cup. Almond Eye(JPN) was set to retire after the race while the other two still have a long career ahead of them. The field was also packed with many other talented stayers, all hoping to play spoiler. Despite having purposefully avoided long distances races since her previous Japan Cup win in 2018, the world got to see Almond Eye(JPN) in all her glory as she went out like the champion she has always proven herself to be. With her signature closing kick, she launched into action at the 300m mark, catching runaway pace setting Kiseki(JPN) by Rulership(JPN) easily and was never threatened by Contrail(JPN), who finished a length and a quarter back in second. Daring Tact(JPN) was a neck back in third after having won a photo finish for third with Curren Bouquetd'or (JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN), who had been second in the Japan Cup last year. It was a Triple Crown winner 1-2-3, with age coming before youth. It was the race most fans had probably wanted to see, Almond Eye(JPN) going out on top but the other two stars finishing in the top three as well. Commentators on TV likely said it best, that after the tough year everyone has had with the pandemic, being able to watch racing and horses as good as there is truly a gift from the racing gods.

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


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