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January 22, 2021 (Fri)

December JRA Graded Stakes Review

The last month of 2020 racing for the Japanese was filled with exciting renewals. Despite a raging pandemic, the JRA was able to keep racing uninterrupted and ended the year posting an overall increase in turnover from last year. They have been enjoying steady growth for several years now, but to continue it when most racing jurisdictions worldwide saw stoppage and decline is genuinely remarkable. The NAR posted their highest turnover in years, so the Japanese horse racing across the board came out of 2020 in a very healthy place.

In the 3600m, G2 Stayers Stakes at Nakayama Racecourse on December 5th Orfevre(JPN) had another long-distance horse claim a graded stakes win for him as a sire. Ocea Great(JPN) expertly stalked the pace during the two and a quarter-mile long marathon before getting his head in front to earn his first graded stakes title. Tagano Diamante(JPN), also by Orfevre(JPN), had led the entire two laps of the track but could not hold off Ocea Great(JPN) in the final strides. Pont des Arts(JPN) by Heart's Cry(JPN) was a length and a half back in third.

In the 2000m G3 Challenge Cup at Hanshin Racecourse on December 5th, the only filly, Lei Papale(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN), overcame a field full of older males. The three-year-old filly is the full sister to G2 winner Shining Lei(JPN) and emulated her older brother well, stalking the pace throughout before pulling away to win by a length and a half. Bravas(JPN) by King Kamehameha(JPN) was second, and Hindu Times(JPN) by Harbinger(GB) was a half-length back in third.

The 1800m G1 Champions Cup at Chukyo Racecourse on December 6th is the final dirt G1 in the JRA for the year and saw a real all-star cast of dirt talent. Chuwa Wizard(JPN) by King Kamehameha(JPN) had started 2020 on a high note, winning the JPN1 Kawasaki Kinen in the NAR and after two third-place efforts in other NAR JPN1 events, which included many of the same challenges in the Champions Cup. He ended 2020 on a high note as well, cruising to a two and a half-length win. Seven-year-old Gold Dream(JPN) by Gold Allure(JPN) got up for second, and G1 winner Inti(JPN) by Came Home(USA) was a neck back in third.

The 2000m G3 Chunichi Shimbun Hai at Chukyo Racecourse on December 12th saw what we might one day consider the beginning of a brilliant career when Boccherini(JPN) by King Kamehameha(JPN) stuck his neck out to claim his first graded stakes win. He is the full brother of Lovely Day(JPN), who blossomed in his five-year-old season. Boccherini(JPN), who turns five in 2021, sat near the middle of the pack before posting some impressive footwork in the stretch to work his way to the lead. Filly Shigeru Pink Dia(JPN) by Daiwa Major(JPN) was second, and Velox(JPN) by Just a Way(JPN) was three-quarters of a length back in third.

The 1200m G3 Capella Stakes at Nakayama Racecourse on December 13th gave Orfevre(JPN) his second graded stakes winner of the month when Justin(JPN), already a listed winner in the NAR, got up to claim his first JRA graded stakes win. He sat just off the pace in the early stages of the race and battled with Dancing Prince(JPN) by Pas de Trois(JPN) for much of the stretch before taking a narrow lead as they hit the wire to win by a neck. Red le Zele(JPN) by Lord Kanaloa(JPN) came flying at the end, coming from the tenth position but came up short. Dancing Prince(JPN) was a neck back in third.

The 1600m G1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies at Hanshin Racecourse on December 13th ended up being one of the most historic renewals of this iconic race. Sodashi(JPN) by Kurofune(JPN) already made history earlier this year, becoming the first white thoroughbred to win a graded stakes over the turf, and then doubled down when she won another one, but her win in this G1 broke all the records as the first white thoroughbred to ever win a G1 race anywhere in the world. She sat just off the pace for much of the race before fighting her way towards the lead in the stretch. As they neared the wire, it looked like Satono Reinas(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) had caught the pure white filly, but Sodashi(JPN) dug deep and was able to get her nose in front at the wire. Uberleben(JPN) by Gold Ship(JPN) was a neck back in third.

The 1600m G3 Turquoise Stakes at Nakayama Racecourse on December 19th gave Smile Kana(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) her second graded stakes win of the year. She is out of a half-sister to A Shin Hikari(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN). She turned out admirable performances multiple times in 2020. She sat off the pace early on and held off a strong performance by Andraste(JPN) by Orfevre(JPN) to win by a nose. Fairy Polka(JPN) by Rulership(JPN) was a length and a quarter back in third.

In the 1600m, G1 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes at Hanshin Racecourse on December 20th, Frankel(GB) reigned supreme when seventh favorite Grenadier Guards(JPN) held off the favorites to win by three-quarters of a length in record time. He was just coming out of breaking his maiden a little over a month earlier thus not being as popular in the betting as some of his rivals who had already captured graded stakes titles. He hit the lead just after the 200m mark after stalking the pace early on. It looked like his win would be a commanding one until the top two favorites started to make up ground in the 100m. Second favorite Stella Veloce(JPN) by Bago(FR), was second and favorite Red Belle Aube(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) was a length and a half back in third.

In the 2000m, G1 Hopeful Stakes at Nakayama Racecourse on December 26th, Danon the Kid(JPN) by Just a Way(JPN) stayed perfect and gave his sire his first G1 winner at stud. Danon the Kid(JPN) sat off the pace in the early stages of the race, getting the lead at about the 200m mark. It looked like maybe he wasn't going to be able to follow through as he was overtaken by Orthoclase(JPN) by Epiphaneia(JPN) shortly after, but he rallied impressively to win by a length and a quarter. Orthoclase(JPN) was second, and Soho Lake(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) was a half-length back in third.

The 1400m G2 Hanshin Cup at Hanshin Racecourse on December 26th saw the rebirth of a champion when G1 winner Danon Fantasy(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) got up to win by a comfortable length and three quarter. She had had a very disappointing year finishing out of the money in her three previous starts in 2020, but she came back in a big way defeating males at that. It is the same race where Gran Alegria(JPN), also by Deep Impact(JPN), got back into the winners' circle again in 2019 before having one of the best seasons a horse can have in 2020, so hopefully the same will be true for this champion filly as well. Maltese Diosa(JPN) by Kizuna(JPN) was second, and Indy Champ(JPN) by Stay Gold(JPN) was a neck back in third.

The 2500m G1 Arima Kinen at Nakayama Racecourse on December 27th is the big year-end race that all Japanese racing fans adore. It is also usually the most heavily bet race in the country every year. 2020's renewal didn't have the top three finishers from the G1 Japan Cup in there, but it was still full of top-notch horses, especially fillies and mares. Three of the top five favorites were female, but it was Chrono Genesis(JPN) by Bago(FR) who took home the big prize with an outstanding performance. She started near the back of the pack but then was brought up to sit just off the pace as they headed into the final turn. As they sit the stretch, she dueled with G1 winning stayer Fierement(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN) for much for the short stretch before gaining the advantage at about the 50m mark and on to win by a neck over a fast closing Salacia(JPN) by Deep Impact(JPN). Fierement(JPN) was another neck back in third. It was a thrilling finish to an exciting JRA season.

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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