The 49th Sprinters Stakes - Handicapper's Report on the Japanese Contenders
The Sprint G1 is held twice a year by the JRA—the Takamatsunomiya Kinen in spring and the Sprinters Stakes in Autumn. This year’s Takamatsunomiya Kinen title was claimed by Aerovelocity (NZ, G7, by Pins) of Hong Kong who became the first foreign contender to accomplish the win. Six months after the victory which represented the high standard of short-distance racing in Hong Kong, the Sprinters Stakes will be challenged by yet another Hong Kong raider, Rich Tapestry (IRE, G7, by Holy Roman Emperor). The Holy Roman Emperor gelding may have less to prove on paper compared to Aerovelocity, but the Irish-bred seven-year-old has turned in impressive results in his overseas endeavors to Dubai and the United States, and will no doubt be a threat in this year’s coming G1 event.
Meanwhile, the Japanese sprint category has been short of producing a clear standout since the retirement of Lord Kanaloa (JPN, by King Kamehameha), and the competition is wide open for those aiming to become the next sprint champion.
The following are those predicted to play a major role in this year’s Sprinters Stakes, beginning with two outstanding mares trained by multiple JRA award-winning trainer Hideaki Fujiwara.
Straight Girl (JPN, M6, by Fuji Kiseki; 112M) landed her first G1 title in the Victoria Mile (G1, 1,600m) in May this year, but all her previous eight wins leading up to her mile G1 victory was over 1,200 meters, and her runner-up effort in the 2014 edition of the Sprinters Stakes as well as her third-place finish in the Hong Kong Sprint (G1, 1,200m) places her as well suited to this distance.
It will be her first start over the course at Nakayama but she has been consistent and adaptable in all her previous outings at eight different racecourses. Known to race close to the pace or mid-field, she performed well in her first start, the Centaur Stakes following a four-month spell and can be expected to improve on that in her G1 challenge. Her rating is as of her victory in the Victoria Mile.
Uliuli (JPN, M5, by Deep Impact; 107S) has been raced mainly over a mile and is a grade-race winner of the 2014 Kyoto Himba Stakes (G3, 1,600m). In July this year, she also proved to excel at 1,200 meters, registering another grade-race title in her first sprint race, the CBC Sho (G3, 1,200m) while carrying 55.5kg. She validated her win in the following Centaur Stakes (G2, 1,200m) in which she just missed by a nose while beating proven sprint winners including her stablemate Straight Girl.
Her finishing speed is powerful, recording a staggering 32.8 seconds over the last three furlongs in the Centaur Stakes. Her rating is as of her victory in the CBC Sho.
Active Minoru (JPN, C3, by Statue of Liberty; 111S) scored a wire-to-wire victory in the Centaur Stakes, holding off a strong field of older sprinters that included the aforementioned mares as well as the Takamatsunomiya Kinen runner-up Hakusan Moon. However, the victory was accomplished with the early pace being in his favor—the first three furlongs was slower than moderate at 34.0 seconds—while the Sprinters Stakes at Nakayama is usually run at a considerably solid pace—the average being 33.0 seconds for the first three furlongs.
The Statue of Liberty colt’s ability will be put to the test in his next sprint G1 in which only one three-year-old has managed to claim the title since 2000. His rating is as of his victory in the Centaur Stakes.
Also worth noting are two female runners that have come off victories in their respective graded sprints.
Bel Canto (JPN, F4, by Sakura Bakushin O; 108S) was fifth in the 2014 edition of the Sprinters Stakes but has progressed well this year with back-to-back wins in the Ibis Summer Dash (G3, 1,000m) and the Kitakyushu Kinen (G3, 1,200m) which places her as the only runner among the 2015 Sprinters Stakes field with two sprint grade-race titles won this year.
She has good speed that keeps her close to the pace early and yet still respond when challenged so she will almost definitely be among those vying for the lead in the finishing stages. Her rating is as of her win in the Kitakyushu Kinen. She was rated 109S when fifth in the Sprinters Stakes last year.
Ukiyono Kaze (JPN, M5, by On Fire; 105S), like Uliuli, found her true form when switched to sprint racing. Coming off a win in her sprint debut in an allowance race in July, she made it two in a row, this time, in the graded Keeneland Cup (G3, 1,200m) which stamped her as a potential sprinter. Her early racing career was hindered by leg problems which forced the On Fire filly to take a long break from February of her three-year-old season and she was unable to come back until November of the following year.
With just nine career starts she has much room to improve at five years old, and making use of her powerful charge from racing behind, she has the fastest finish over the last three furlongs in her previous two starts. Her rating is as of her Keeneland Cup win.
Copano Richard (JPN, H5, by Daiwa Major; 106S), while winless for 18 months since his dominating three-length victory in the 2014 Takamatsunomiya Kinen, is the only runner among the Japanese field with a G1 title to his name.
While his three starts this year is less than convincing, Mirco Demuro, who will be taking the reins again after partnering the son of Daiwa Major in their Takamatsunomiya Kinen victory last year, could make a difference. The five-year-old is typically seen racing among the front group and his rating is as of his fifth-place finish in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen this year. He was rated 112M when runner-up in the Hanshin Cup (G2, 1,400m) last December.
Hakusan Moon and Mikki Isle, who finished second and third, respectively, in this year’s Takamatsunomiya Kinen also have a good chance in the Sprinters Stakes.
Although yet to win a G1 title, Hakusan Moon (JPN, H6, by Admire Moon; 116S) has been extremely consistent in his sprint G1 starts, registering two seconds and a third, and while winless for over two years, he has maintained his form, finishing best among the Japanese sprinters in his runner-up effort to Aerovelocity in this year’s Takamatsunomiya Kinen.
He failed to hold off his foes in his latest start, the Centaur Stakes, which was his first start following a five and a half months break, finishing eighth to Active Minoru. But if he is successful in taking the front at Nakayama where he gave a terrific performance that came close to matching the unbeatable sprint champion Lord Kanaloa in the 2013 Sprinters Stakes, he too has a good chance of claiming his first G1 title. His rating is as of his runner-up effort in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen.
Mikki Isle (JPN, C4, by Deep Impact; 116S) registered three straight grade-race titles over a mile including the NHK Mile Cup (G1, 1,600m) during his three-year-old spring campaign but has been especially impressive over shorter distances since the latter half of 2014 which began with a win the Swan Stakes (G2, 1,400m).
Although he was heavily beaten after being used up pulling hard in the Yasuda Kinen (G1, 1,600m), he has a good chance over a fast-paced 1,200-meter race if in hand early. It will be his first start after a four-month break, but the Deep Impact colt has a record of winning the Swan Stakes following a five-month spell. His rating is as of his third-place finish in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen.