2015 Yasuda Kinen (G1) - Preview
Considered by many to be the top mile race of the year, the Yasuda Kinen on June 7 wraps up the successive weeks of top-level racing at Tokyo.
Usually boasting foreign raiders among its ranks, this year, sadly, the 65th running of the race sees none who have flown in for the fun. The excitement, however, remains, as young and old vie for their moment in the sun.
Though none of the top three finishers from last year are back, seven from the 2014 lineup are, including Danon Shark, Real Impact and Fiero, all expected to be popular picks.
The 1,600-meter turf Yasuda Kinen was created in 1951 in honor of Izaemon Yasuda, the first president of the JRA. Yasuda helped to legalize horse-race betting as well as draw up designs for the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby). The race was originally named the Yasuda Sho, or "prize," but was changed to mark Yasuda's passing in 1958 to the Yasuda Kinen. "Kinen" means "memorial" in Japanese. The Yasuda Kinen became a Japanese Grade 1 race from 1984 and an international Grade 1 in 1993.
The Tokyo course is known as an especially difficult course to win on strategy alone, with the mile course starting 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 toward the left for 400 meters before hitting the grueling Tokyo straight of 525 meters, the first 225 meters of which are uphill.
For those who enjoy taking their wagering hints from the results of past years, a look over the past eight winners sees six who have gone to the Yasuda gate coming off a G1 run (including overseas races). Though winners of the step races the Keio Hai Spring Cup and the Yomiuri Milers Cup have done well, a better prediction of a first-place finish is a step from a G1. Age-wise, 5 and 6-year-olds tend to figure most prominently. The only runners answering these specs this year are the longshot mares Keiai Elegant and Meisho Mambo. Only two females out of the 20 that ran over the past decade have won the Yasuda.
The Yasuda Kinen record was set in 2012 by Strong Return, who covered the mile distance in 1 minute 31.3 seconds.
Open to 3-year-olds and up, but there are no 3-year-olds in this year’s lineup. Colts and horses will carry 58 kg, fillies and mares 56 kg. The Yasuda Kinen is the 11th race on the Tokyo Sunday card of 12. Post time is 3:40 p.m.
A look across the field sees the following standouts.
Maurice – Expected to figure strongly in the betting on the Yasuda Kinen is Maurice, a 4-year-old son of Screen Hero. From the stable of Noriyuki Hori, just off a one-three in the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby), Maurice is on a roll himself, albeit at a lower level. Jumping up in class each race, Maurice captured his last three races, all at Nakayama. From a 3-length winning margin in the 10-million-yen class allowance race Wakashio Sho over the mile, he went on to the winner’s circle of the Spica Stakes, a 1,800-meter allowance race in the 16-million-yen class. Last time out, he claimed his first race at the graded-stakes level, the G3 1,600-meter Lord Derby Challenge Trophy. It was an impressive win, one that saw him rocket over the final 3 furlongs with fraction times of 11.6-11.7-10.9 to make the front and cross the line with a 3 1/2 length margin. Maurice’s three previous bids at the G2 level saw him finish out of the money, with a best fourth in the 1,800-meter Fuji TV Sho Spring Stakes at Nakayama. 2015 since a move to Miho Training Center from his previous trainer Naohiro Yoshida in Ritto have seen him unbeaten. His present trainer feels he’s ready to take on the top. Assistant trainer Atsunori Hashimoto agrees. “His last win and his time indicate he has enough to win a G1. I don’t know if he’ll be able to get a run like he’s had in his last two races but I’m hoping he’ll give us a good showing.” Purchased in 2013 at the Hokkaido Training Sale for 10 million yen, Maurice has already raked in more than 10 times that amount with his five wins in 10 starts to date. The Yasuda winner’s share of 100 million yen would nearly double his present earnings. A look at his bloodline sees sire Screen Hero capturing the 2008 Japan Cup in his first G1 bid, but failing over his three runs at the mile. Grand-sire Grass Wonder, however, set a record time in the 1997 G1 mile-long Asahi Hai Sansai Stakes (current Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes) and missed the 1999 Yasuda Kinen win only by a nose. Sunday will see Maurice at Tokyo for the first time since he ran in the 1,400-meter Keio Hai Nisai Stakes in 2013. The G2 was his second race of his career and he finished sixth. The long stretch at Fuchu should be a plus. Maurice has been worked without urging in the usual Hori style and it seems to suit him. On May 28, Maurice got top marks for his workout with stablemate Real Impact over the woodchip course at Miho. This colt is ready. Yuga Kawada is pegged for the ride.
Danon Shark – Back for his third try at the Yasuda and his second G1 title is the 7-year-old Danon Shark. The son of Deep Impact reached the heights with his first G1 win in five tries when he captured the Mile Championship at Kyoto two races back in last November. His previous runs in the Yasuda saw him finish in third place in 2013 and fourth last year. Following the Mile Championship, Danon Shark returned for the Hankyu Hai on March 1. Running over soft ground and 18 kg heavier than he was for the Mile Championship, Danon Shark lacked acceleration in the stretch and finished fifth in the 1,400-meter G3. Still, his time was only 0.6 seconds slower than that of winner Daiwa Maggiore. Next aimed for the Milers Cup, he was forced to sit it out due to a bruised hoof. Trainer Ryuji Okubo says, “He recovered from that the same week, we had just wanted to be careful. It’s true he didn’t get a sharpener this year but last year he ran here with the same amount of time between races and did well despite the soft track and being marked by others, so I don’t see it as a problem. If he can get a firm track, he’ll be able to keep something in reserve and do well for sure.” Come rain or shine, however, Danon Shark is reliable. His time over firm ground for a third in 2013 was 1 minute 31.6 seconds. Last year, over soft going, he clocked 1 minute 37.4 seconds in fourth. On May 28, Danon Shark looked good over the woodchip course at Ritto Training Center. He worked in tandem, catching and passing his running mate. Though he took a breather, he looked ready, bigger and more powerful than before his last race. If Danon Shark can win on Sunday, it will be the first time for a horse to claim both the Mile Championship and Yasuda Kinen since Daiwa Major, who won the 2007 Yasuda. Yasunari Iwata is slated for the Yasuda ride.
Fiero – Second to Danon Shark by a nose in the Mile Championship last year was Fiero, a 6-year-old by Deep Impact and from the stable of Hideaki Fujiwara. Traveling overseas and running sixth in the Longines Hong Kong Mile at Sha Tin in mid December, Fiero then took on the G2 Milers Cup on April 26 and finished third, about 1/2 length behind winner Red Arion and a neck behind runnerup Sunrise Major. Fiero is plagued by frustrating finishes and has yet to win a graded race despite having finished in the money in four of his last six runs, all G2 or higher. Of the Milers Cup assistant trainer Nobuyuki Tashiro says, “Things got a bit tight for him at the top of the stretch and it was frustrating to lose by only a neck and a neck. On May 27, we worked him in tandem over the woodchips and had him come from behind. He clocked 11.8 seconds over the last furlong and was moving nicely.” Eighth in the Yasuda last year, Fiero was at a disadvantage over the soft ground, and considering that he has clocked times in the 1 minute 31-second range over the mile twice, a firm track is what this boy needs. “You can throw out last year’s race with the soft ground and though he hasn’t won a graded race, he has come so, so close,” Tashiro said.
Real Impact – Hori’s other card in his hand for Sunday is Real Impact, a 7-year-old by Triple Crown champion Deep Impact. He’s had a tough schedule this year with two G1 runs in Australia. He claimed the George Ryder Stakes over 1,500 meters on March 21 and did it carrying 59 kg. He then ran second in the Star Doncaster Mile on April 6 and is now back in Japan looking to win his second JRA G1 and second Yasuda Kinen on his fourth try. As a 3-year-old in 2011, Real Impact took on the Yasuda a mere 225 days from his debut and clinched it, but then ran sixth and 13th in his next two Yasuda bids. Slumps followed by streaks of success is how his career could best be described. The George Ryder win was his first G1 victory in nearly four years and if he can triumph on Sunday, he’ll have the somewhat embarrassing honor of becoming the horse with the longest span between JRA G1 wins. From the looks of his recent form, however, gaining that honor is a real possibility. Real Impact is on the up and up. He ran splendidly Down Under after a win of the G2 Hanshin Cup at yearend. However, he had had ample work before the Hanshin Cup, and though he is looking good, he has not had as many fast workouts as he had late last year. Key to leaving an impact on Sunday will be just how ready he really is. Hiroyuki Uchida is expected to have the ride.
Vincennes – Another son of Deep Impact, the 6-year-old Mikio Matsunaga-trained Vincennes has run first or second in his past six races. Those included the G3 1,600-meter Tokyo Shimbun Hai in February and the 1,400-meter G2 Keio Hai Spring Cup, also at Tokyo, on May 16. Though he is relatively inexperienced racing in the upper ranks, his last two runs bode well for the Yasuda. The Keio Hai Spring Cup, in which he finished second, saw him at the distance for the first time and coming off a layoff. The Spring Cup saw the first 600 meters run at the slow pace of 36 seconds. Vincennes then turned in the fastest time over the final 3 furlongs at 32.7 seconds and lost by a head to winner Sakura Gospel, who had made his move from midfield. A big horse at over 500 kg, Vincennes deftly handled the uphill course on May 27 and looked good despite the tight rotation. “He really surprised me with the way he ran in the Spring Cup,” says Matsunaga. “He was able to settle well despite the slow pace and I was reminded of just how much ability he has.” His dam is Flower Park, a sprint champion who won both the Takamatsunomiya Hai (current Takamatsunomiya Kinen) and the Sprinters Stakes in 1996. The extra distance of the Yasuda will be welcome. “I’m looking forward to it, especially if the track is a bit slow,” said Matsunaga.
Daiwa Maggiore – Japanese Derby jockey Mirco Demuro is set for the ride in the Yasuda aboard Daiwa Maggiore, a 6-year-old by Daiwa Major. After winning his first outing this year, the 1,400-meter G3 Hankyu Hai in March, Daiwa Maggiore ran sixth in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen, then 10th in the Keio Hai Spring Cup after missing the break. Still, the finish of that race was a very close one and, despite the dubious-sounding finishing order, Daiwa Maggiore was only a mere 0.3 seconds off the winner.
Note: Fluky will not run in this race
Fluky – From the stable of Katsuhiko Sumii comes the oddly named Fluky, sired by Redoute’s Choice. Contrary to what his name would imply, Fluky has proven highly consistent, figuring in the top three spots in nine of his 13 starts. He also has notched three wins at the mile and, in February, ran third (0.1 seconds off the winner) in the G3 Tokyo Shimbun Hai at the same distance. Last time out, he took on his first G2 (the Milers Cup) and finished fifth, 0.2 seconds off the winner. Back at Tokyo for his second time, the long stretch should stand this darkhorse well. Fluky is expected to be partnered with Hiroshi Kitamura, the No. 8 winning jockey in the East.
Mikki Isle – Returning to the distance over which he bagged five wins straight, including the G1 NHK Mile Cup, is Mikki Isle, by Deep Impact. After finishing 13th in the Mile Championship last year, Mikki Isle was raced over 1,200 and 1,400 meters for his next three races, and his results included a third in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen. It was a strong race, his first over the distance and on a surface that demanded strength. Previously, Mikki Isle had raced nearly exclusively in the lead, but recently he is learning to hold back with a bit of cover. Trainer Hidetaka Otonashi says, “He’s working well. We’ve been putting other horses in front of him and training him to move from there. The stretch is long and I’m hoping he’ll be able to move up slowly.” The odds should be good on Mikki Isle in light of his 16th-place finish in the Yasuda last year, but he is definitely worth a wager.
Red Arion – Winner of the G2 Milers Cup on April 26 at Kyoto is Red Arion, a 5-year-old by Agnes Tachyon from the stable of Kojiro Hashiguchi. Suited to a fast track and a speed race, Red Arion has yet to win over the Tokyo mile but has finished within reach of the winner’s circle with a third, fourth, sixth and seventh in his four attempts. He has taken on two G1s, both at the mile. His first, the NHK Mile Cup in 2013, saw him finish fourth, but he ran 14th in last year’s Mile Championship. Plagued by poor starts, Red Arion has broken well in his last two races. Hashiguchi says he has improved. “He has good early speed and now that his starts have gotten consistently better, he’s been able to keep up with the pace nicely. If the ground is bad, he loses interest, but if we can get a firm track, he shouldn’t be an embarrassment now at the G1 level.”
- Barrier draw
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2015 Winner: Maurice
2014 Winner: Just a Way