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January 29, 2021 (Fri)

2020 JRA Awards

Last year was truly an epic year for Japanese racing, and there were so many great horses of all ages for fans to get behind going into awards season. Ultimately the most obvious horses came out on top in each of their categories.

Champion Two Year Old Colt: Danon the Kid(JPN) by Just a Way(JPN)
He was three for three at the end of last year, and his performance in the G1 Hopeful Stakes sealed the deal on his award for the season. The Hopeful Stakes is a relatively new addition to the G1 ranks in the JRA, but it has profoundly impacted the classic season almost every year. Big things will be expected from Danon the Kid(JPN) as we enter the spring.

Champion Two Year Old Filly: Sodashi(JPN) by Kurofune(USA)
This all-white filly can't stop breaking barriers! In the fall, she became the first all-white thoroughbred in the world to win graded stakes on turf, and then in December, she became the first all-white thoroughbred in the world ever to win a G1 on any surface. Winning the G1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies made her four for four in 2020, and she was unanimously voted for to be champion.

Champion Three Year Old Colt: Contrail(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN)
Most years, winning the Triple Crown undefeated would have earned him Horse of the Year honors, but 2020 was not like any other year on record. He was the unanimous choice to be champion three-year-old, having only come in second in the G1 Japan Cup back in November to Almond Eye(JPN), the first loss of his career. His sire, Deep Impact(JPN), ironically enough, was undefeated when he won his triple crown back in 2005 but then ended up losing his last race of the year, the G1 Arima Kinen to Heart's Cry(JPN).

Champion Three Year Old Filly: Daring Tact(JPN) by Epiphaneia(JPN)
There are years where her feats last year would have at least put her in the running for Horse of the Year honors, especially being the first filly to ever win the filly triple crown undefeated. She ended the year with four wins and a third-place finish in the G1 Japan Cup. A season that was then enough to make her the unanimous winner of this award.

Champion Older Male: Fierement(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN)
2020 was the Year of the Filly in the JRA, with nine of the twelve G1s that are open older horses being won by females. Fierement(JPN) stood out last year despite having only three races on his card. In May, he captured his second consecutive G1 Tenno Sho Haru, something not many other horses have accomplished over the years. He was also second in the G1 Tenno Sho Aki in October before finishing third in the G1 Arima Kinen in December. He was the most consistent male of the year, which showed in the overwhelming support from voters.

Champion Older Female: Almond Eye(JPN) by Lord Kanaloa(JPN)
Several older females performed to the best of their abilities last year, who would have received this award in any other year. Chrono Genesis(JPN) claimed both of the G1 Grand Prix(Takarazuka Kinen and Arima Kinen), Lucky Lilac(JPN) won two G1 titles (Osaka Hai and Queen Elizabeth II Cup). Of course, Gran Alegria(JPN) won an incredible three G1s last year, all against male rivals. Almond Eye(JPN), in her final year of racing, in her last month of racing, put on two spectacular performances; however that overshadowed those other fillies and mares and earned her this honor and more.

Champion Sprinter/Miler: Gran Alegria(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN)
While it has become quite the theme of the year, this mare's achievements last year could have been well argued for in other categories. Last year, only two other horses managed to with three G1s, Contrail(JPN) and Daring Tact(JPN). Gran Alegria(JPN) had a phenomenal final six months of 2020, first winning the G1 Yasuda Kinen against males and the mighty Almond Eye(JPN). In the fall, she came back to win the G1 Sprinters Stakes in a spectacular fashion before easily picking up the G1 Milers Championship a month later.

Champion Dirt Horse: Chuwa Wizard(JPN) by King Kamehameha(JPN)
There are only two G1s on dirt in the JRA, so ultimately, the NAR performances likely impact some of the voters' decisions for this particular award. He started the year winning the JPN1 Kawasaki Kinen before finishing third in both the JPN1 Teio Sho and JPN1 JBC Classic. What sealed the deal for Chuwa Wizard(JPN) was his dominant performance in the G1 Champions Cup in December, showing his superiority at that moment to all of the other top JRA dirt horses currently competing.

Special Award: Chrono Genesis(JPN) by Bago(FR)
The grey filly captured two of the year's most prized races, the two Grand Prix, the G1 Takarazuka Kinen in June and the G1 Arima Kinen in December. Year before last, that achievement earned Lys Gracieux(JPN) Horse of the Year honors for 2019. It shows the immense talent pool that Japanese racing fans got to enjoy last year at the races. The JRA did recognize Chrono Genesis(JPN)' impressive feat by giving her a special achievement award.

Horse of the Year: Almond Eye(JPN) by Lord Kanaloa(JPN)
The main prize was resoundingly given to Almond Eye(JPN), who gave racing fans two performances to remember in her swan song year. In the G1 Tenno Sho in early November, she became the first Japanese turf horse to win 8 G1 races. Many great horses had gotten stuck on seven over the decades, but she finally got one up on all the other horses in Japanese history. She wasn't done yet, though. In the G1 Japan Cup at the end of November, she not only broke her own record to become the only horse to have won 9 G1 over the turf in Japan, but she also defeated two other undefeated triple crown winners Contrail(JPN) and Daring Tact(JPN). After about a year of issues from illness to COVID-19 event cancelations, it was amazing to see the all-star mare go out the same blaze of glory we always knew she had in her. Last year, many horses could have shared this title on their stats for the season, but Almond Eye(JPN) brings with her not only the stats but the emotion to make it all mean that much more.


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