NHK Mile Cup (G1) - Preview
2010 NHK Mile Cup (G1)
Some 30 JRA 3-year-olds have been nominated for a maximum field of 18 for the 16th NHK Mile Cup on May 8 at Tokyo Racecourse. The race has become increasingly significant not only as one of the most important races in determining the year’s top miler, but for heralding future success in a number of top-level races.
The winners in 2004 and 2008, King Kamehameha and Deep Sky, respectively, went on to win the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby), as did Tanino Gimlet, who placed third in the 2002 NHK Mile Cup. Two-time winner of the Takamatsunomiya Kinen Kinshasa no Kiseki was third in 2006 and Laurel Guerreiro, named the top sprinter in 2009 after winning both the Takamatsunomiya Kinen and Sprinters Stakes, came in second in the 2007 race.
The 1997 NHK Mile Cup champion, Seeking the Pearl, became the first Japanese-trained horse to win an overseas Grade 1 race, capturing the 2008 Prix Maurice de Gheest in France. El Condor Pasa, the 1998 winner, won the Japan Cup the following year and took second in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Eagle Cafe and Kurofune captured the NHK Mile Cup in 2000 and 2001, respectively. The two went on to win the Japan Cup Dirt.
The Fuchu mile is not only a test of speed, but also a test of endurance. An especially difficult course to win on strategy alone, the Fuchu mile starts at the mouth of the backstretch, with a run of more than 500 meters that evens the chances of success for any draw. The course turns left for 400 meters before hitting the grueling Tokyo straight of 525 meters, the first 225 meters of which is uphill.
The NHK Mile Cup had originally been a 2,000-meter trial for the 2,400-meter Tokyo Yushun from 1953 to 1995, until the race took on its current format in 1996 as the de facto mile championship for 3-year-old colts and fillies. As of 2009, the NHK Mile Cup was given international Grade 1 status. There are, however, no foreign horses in the race this year.
Although the NHK Mile has been known for a number of longshots finding their way to the winner’s circle. Last year, however, the top picks fared well. Race favorite Danon Chantilly answered fans’ expectations for the win, a record win in 1:31.4. Fifth choice Daiwa Barbarian finished in second place with third choice L’Ile d’Aval in third, second-pick Sunrise Prince in fourth place.
The winner’s share of the NHK Mile is 92 million yen and post time is set for 3:40 Sunday afternoon. The following horses are being touted as the top picks.
Cotillion – Cotillion, by triple crown champ Deep Impact, is only 1 for 6, but has come close to raising his win rate in top-level company. He has made the money in all but one of his outings to date. Second in the Mainichi Hai, an important prep for the NHK Mile Cup, Cotillion finished only a neck off the winner. He showed good stamina in the 1,800-meter race at Hanshin and it’s expected that the NHK Mile, a furlong longer and held at Tokyo, with its homestretch of over 500 meters, will fit him to a tee. Trainer Kojiro Hashiguchi attributes the Mainichi Hai loss to cueing. “We brought him wide and he quickened impressively but the winner had moved just a bit earlier and I’d say that that was our undoing.” Cotillion was second to Nakayama Knight in the Begonia Sho and third behind Satsuki Sho third-place finisher Danon Ballade in the Nikkei Hai Nisai Stakes revealing he is clearly of G1 caliber. A lack of earnings kept him out of the Satsuki Sho. The colt has shown a problem settling into a steady rhythm and has proven difficult to ride. His pairing with Futoshi Komaki, expected to take the reins again this time out, may prove auspicious and bring Cotillion his first graded race win. Hashiguchi believes the mile would suit his colt’s temperament. “Considering rhythm, I think 1,600 meters would be good for him. If he can hold back early on, he has the acceleration needed for a strong finish and that makes the long stretch at Tokyo attractive.”
Grand Prix Boss – Two-year-old champion Grand Prix Boss sat out the Satsuki Sho in order to be fresh for the NHK Mile. Yet to notch a win this year, the Sakura Bakushin O colt has fallen considerably from grace amongst the tipsters. However, his losses were far from disgraceful, seeing him cross the line only two-tenths of a second behind the winner in both his outings from year begin. Trainer Yoshito Yahagi says the reason for the losses were clear. “He had a clear run and simply was unable to hold back. But, even so, he was able to finish well.” The colt’s tendency to be keen in the early stages has undoubtedly led to repercussions in the finish. If he can find a rhythm, helped by a fast pace, he may be able to return to the heights he enjoyed as a 2-year-old. Mirco Demuro rode him for his last two wins of 2010 and the colt has had a change of riders in both his last races. This time out, Australian Craig Williams will be up. Yahagi says, “Last week, Williams took him on the artificial surface and had his hands full trying to keep his speed down. Nevertheless, he did magnificently in getting into a good rhythm and I think having this experience under our belt will be a help.”
Henny Hound – The American-bred son of Henny Hughes also hails from the stable of Yoshito Yahagi. Henny Hound, though unbeaten is also largely untested, having had only two races since his debut. After winning that race at Tokyo (1,400 meters) at the end of November, he did not race again until March at Hanshin, when he captured the 1,200-meter G3 Falcon Stakes. It would be a huge step up to win a G1 on only his third time out, but he has shown remarkable racing sense and has held his own working alongside stablemate Grand Prix Boss. The distance is the biggest unknown, but with a previous win at Tokyo, the possibility of success seems well within reach.
Eishin Osman – By Rock of Gibraltar, Eishin Osman performed well to finish 8th in the 2,000-meter Satsuki Sho. He has had a very strenuous year since coming back at the end of March following 3 1/2 months off. The NHK Mile would be his fourth race since the March 26 Spring Stakes, in which he finished fifth. Following that with a win of the G2 New Zealand Trophy (1,600 meters) at Hanshin, he then took on the Satsuki Sho. Eishin Osman is a highstrung colt. In the Satsuki Sho, he was sent out to the track after the other 17 runners to try to help keep him calm. Trainer Masahiro Matsunaga says, “He’s easily agitated but didn’t show any sign of this last time out. He found his rhythm easily over 2,000 meters and I think his ability to do this at the venue is a huge point in his favor.” Matsunaga feels the 1,600 meters is perfect for Eishin Osman. “It’d be best if he had some horses in front of him and could settle. In any case, I’m looking forward to the race.”
Real Impact -- The Deep Impact-sired Real Impact won his debut and came in second his next time out, both at 1,400 meters and both at Tokyo. He went on to a second place in the G1 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes but his 11th place in the New Zealand Trophy has tarnished his image. Trained by Noriyui Hori, the loss was blamed on a late return to training after a spell following the Futurity Stakes. The long haul to Hanshin took its toll on the colt as well. If Hori can have the colt back in form, he has every chance at the NHK Mile winner’s share. Hori, who received his trainer’s license in 2002, has already enjoyed 17 graded races wins to date, including both the 2010 and 2011 Takamatsunomiya Kinen and last year’s Tenno Sho (Spring).
Pray – Pray was a disappointment with a ninth place in the Satsuki Sho. Despite only one win (a maiden at Tokyo over 1,800 meters) in nine starts, he has been a consistent runner, with five seconds and a third. The NHK Mile will be his first time to race at a distance under 1,800 meters. Trainer Makoto Saito feels the Rock of Gibraltar colt has come back well from the race and that a number of factors that put him at a disadvantage in the Satsuki Sho worked against him. “We had an outside draw in a Tokyo 2,000 and it was his first time to the left in a long time. The trip too was difficult as far as the pace went. The ground was a bit soft and he had difficulty with his footing around the final turn.”
A Shin Jackal – Currently at 2 for 6, A Shin Jackal was runnerup in the New Zealand Trophy. The Fuji Kiseki colt showed fine acceleration in the race final stages and looks well-suited to the Tokyo stretch.
Ivy League, by Lincoln, is considered a darkhorse to keep an eye on. He has won both his starts, an 1,800-meter debut and a mile in the lower classes. Both races were at Hanshin.
Thirteen horses are tied for earnings and a shot at the two final slots of the NHK Mile. Danon Shark, Target Machine, and Deep Sound are considered names to watch out for if they are among the lucky two to win the drawing for the coveted spots.