Horse Racing in Japan

2009 News

May 19, 2009

Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) - Preview
Tokyo Racecourse
Tokyo Racecourse

Win or lose, the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) to be held on Sunday afternoon at Tokyo will focus on one horse: Buena Vista. And the one prevailing question is, can she successfully make the jump of 800 meters from the Oka Sho (Japanese 1,000 Guineas) to the Japanese Oaks?

The Japanese Oaks has always proven to be a tough race for the Oka Sho champion. Since the Japan Racing Association began grading races in 1984, only four fillies have done the Oka Sho-Japanese Oaks double, whereas eight colts have won both the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2,000 Guineas) and the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby). Still in Love was the last horse to sweep the first two legs of the filly's triple crown six years ago.

The Oka Sho and the Japanese Oaks are essentially two separate races, with little linking the performance from the first race to the second. The distance of 2,400 meters – at Tokyo, nonetheless – in the Japanese Oaks can be too much for many 3-year-old fillies to handle.

The Japanese Oaks was, in fact, an even longer race in its original format, set at 2,700 meters at Hanshin in autumn. The length was reduced to 2,450 meters in 1940; three years later, the race settled at its current distance of 2,400 meters before moving ship to Tokyo in 1946, where it has stayed since.

The state-of-the-art Tokyo Racecourse is widely regarded as the fairest track in Japan, but also as the toughest. The home stretch, where the Japanese Oaks starts, runs 525 meters on an upward slope, and after a full lap around the oval, the straight can be punishing, especially for 3-year-olds untested at a distance. Lead changes often occur over the final 100 meters, and it takes a combination of speed, stamina and power to win at Fuchu.

Here are the early favorites for the 70th Japanese Oaks. A full field of 18 is expected, with post time set at 15:40:

BUENA VISTA: All but guaranteed to be the top choice at the morning line, some fancied the new Oka Sho champion's chances in the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) among the boys. Reports say trainer Hiroyoshi Matsuda is considering entering her in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Buena Vista is simply that good. Her performance in the Oka Sho on April 12 at Hanshin Racecourse was nothing short of dominating, practically passing an entire field of 18 in the final stretch to win by half a length over Red Desire. The daughter of Special Week has never lost against another female horse; her only defeat came in her debut in October, when she took third behind a pair of very strong colts – Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2,000 Guineas) winner Unrivaled and the highly touted Reach the Crown. Buena Vista has never ventured beyond 1,800 meters, but she has had zero problems staying in any of her five starts so far. Matsuda claims the filly is more talented than former star Vega, who he won his second Japanese Oaks with back in 1993. With veteran Katsumi Ando, who never seems to feel pressure even in the biggest races, holding the reins again, it's hard to think of any negatives Buena Vista might have. Maybe she has none, which is why she will be the surest bet to win the Japanese Oaks since Cesario did as the top pick in 2005.   Buena Vista
Buena Vista
RED DESIRE: Had it been any other year, trainer Mikio Matsunaga's filly would have been crowned winner of the Oka Sho. But unfortunately for this daughter of Manhattan Café, she was foaled the same year as Buena Vista and was forced to settle for second in the Japanese 1,000 Guineas, just half a length behind the champion. History, nevertheless, will be on Red Desire's side on Sunday; the Oka Sho runnerup has won the Japanese Oaks more times than the actual winner, 11 to 10. Red Desire showed plenty of upside in the Oka Sho, which was just the third start of her career, and her bloodlines suggest she will handle the extra 800 meters without a hitch; Manhattan Café proved himself as one of the top stayers of all time, winning the 3,200-meter Tenno Sho (Spring), the 3,000-meter Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger) and the 2,500-meter Arima Kinen. Jockey Hirofumi Shii loves a big race, and Matsunaga, who himself won the Japanese Oaks in the saddle back in 1991, is confident Red Desire will be in even better form for this weekend. Beating Buena Vista won't be easy, but Red Desire will certainly make her work for the title.   Red Desire (center, black cap)
Red Desire (center, black cap)
DEAR GEENA: Winner of the 2,000-meter trial race Flora Stakes, Dear Geena skipped the Oka Sho to focus on the Japanese Oaks at Tokyo, where two of her four wins have come from. Trainer Yasuhito Tamura and jockey Hiroyuki Uchida teamed up to take a Flora Stakes winner last year (Red Agate) to the Japanese Oaks, but the second choice fell to sixth. Tamura and Uchida have a better horse on their hands this year in Dear Geena, who looked very comfortable running the 10 furlongs in the Flora Stakes which she won by a couple of lengths. Sired by legendary stayer Mejiro McQueen, the filly should hardly be fazed by an added 400 meters on Sunday. With Buena Vista almost certain to come from behind, Dear Geena's chances depend a lot on the decision making of Uchida, currently the third leading jockey in the country who has proven more than capable of making the right choices at the right time.   Dear Geena
Dear Geena
GERMINAL: Just when she was about to be written off, the Shadai Race Horse-owned filly bounces back with a respectable third-place finish in the Oka Sho, coming in two lengths behind Buena Vista. Hope floats in the Japanese Oaks for Germinal because it will be none other than Yuichi Fukunaga handling the reins. Fukunaga has won the Japanese Oaks three times, tied for the most by an active jockey with Yutaka Take; as it so happens, Fukunaga's last Grade 1 victory – international or Japanese – goes back to the 2007 Yushun Himba aboard Robe Decollte. Germinal is one of three horses nominated for the race from Hideaki Fujiwara's stable alongside Wide Sapphire and Broad Street – all by Agnes Tachyon, the top sire in Japan last year. Whether Germinal will be able to make up the two lengths on Buena Vista from the Oka Sho remains to be seen, but with Fukunaga in the irons, never say never.   Germinal
HASHITTE HOSHINO: Another daughter of Agnes Tachyon in the field, this filly has been a magnet for publicity after being named by a star racing show hostess (and popular Japanese idol) Hoshino Aki, but based on her performance in the Flora Stakes, she may prove to be more than just hype. Hashitte Hoshino, trained by Takahisa Tezuka, took third in the Japanese Oaks trial, trailing winner Dear Geena by two lengths. Hashitte Hoshino is certainly battle tested at Tokyo, having run all four of her races at the course, and will be ridden by the young Masami Matsuoka, seventh in the nation in wins this year and the winning jockey of the Tenno Sho (Spring) earlier this month aboard Meiner Kitz. But the last third-place horse from the Flora Stakes to win the Japanese Oaks goes all the way back to 1978, when Five Hope prevailed under Tomio Yokoyama. Sunday's race will put Hashitte Hoshino on the spot, in which we will all find out if she is just about the name (Hashitte Hoshino meaning something along the lines of "I want my baby to run!" in Japanese), or a truly talented thoroughbred.   Hashitte Hoshino
Hashitte Hoshino
DELICATE PIECE: Fast emerging as the darkhorse of the lot, Delicate Piece heads to the Yushun Himba with all of two starts under her belt, having made her debut only in March. Should she win on Sunday, 85 days after her debut, the Yuichi Shikato-trained filly will be the least experienced horse ever to capture the Japanese Oaks, and become just the fifth unbeaten winner of the race – the first since Kawakami Princess in 2006. Delicate Piece has raised a lot of eyebrows in her two victories at Nakayama and Hanshin, won by a combined margin of five lengths. Germinal will likely be picked higher of the two Shadai Race Horse owned runners, but it could very well be Delicate Piece who may have the better moment during the race. To be ridden by wily veteran Yoshitomi Shibata, who came in third in the Victoria Mile (G1) last week aboard seventh pick Shonan la Novia, the White Muzzle child could cause problems for the likes of Buena Vista and Red Desire.   Delicate Piece
Delicate Piece
BROAD STREET: The winner of the 1,800-meter Sweetpea Stakes on May 3 at Tokyo won the trial race by a length and a quarter, but had lost to Delicate Piece by a similar margin in the 2,000-meter Wasurenagusa Sho at Hanshin a month earlier. Her half-brother Finistere came in third in the 2,400-meter TV Tokyo Hai Aoba Sho – a Japanese Derby trial – so all signs point to Broad Street managing the additional 400 meters in the Japanese Oaks just fine. Yet she finished more than three lengths behind Buena Vista in the 1,600-meter Tulip Sho back in March, and it will be up to jockey Shinji Fujita to get the most out of her ability – because that's what Broad Street will need to have any chance of beating the prohibitive favorite come Sunday.   Broad Street
Broad Street
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