2017 News

June 20, 2017


Takarazuka Kinen (G1) - Preview
Tenno Sho (Spring) (G1)
Kitasan Black

Copa Republica Argentina (G2)
Cheval Grand

Nikkei Sho (G2)

Kyoto Kinen (G2)
Satono Crown

Sankei Sho All Comers (G2)
Gold Actor

Sankeisports Hai Hanshin Himba (G2)
Mikki Queen

The last Grade 1 action of the year's first half will be the 58th running of the Takarazuka Kinen at Hanshin Racecourse just west of Osaka. The winner's share for the 2,200-meter event over turf is a heady 150 million yen and competition is especially stiff this year, which may account for the uncharacteristic small field.

The Takarazuka Kinen, run with a full gate of 18 horses since 2007, sees only 11 nominees set to leave the gate on Sunday, June 25. Small, but powerful, the field boasts four Grade 1 champions and it's the Grade 1 champs that have won six of the past 10 runnings of the race.

Headlining this year's big names is 2016 JRA Horse of the Year Kitasan Black, who is looking for his sixth Grade 1 victory overall, his third Grade 1 victory for the first half of this year alone. The other big names are 2015 Arima Kinen (Grand Prix) winner Gold Actor, 2016 Hong Kong Vase champ Satono Crown and Shuka Sho and Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) winner Mikki Queen.

Like the Arima Kinen, the Takarazuka Kinen field is formed in part by the fans, who place their votes for the horses they would most likely see run. Kitasan Black has won the top number of ballots for the second year in a row. Last year he garnered top spot in the fan voting with over 82,000 votes. This year, he topped that number by nearly 20,000 votes with a total 101,621 votes, some 83 percent of all votes. The race record is held by Earnestly, who clocked 2 minutes, 10.1 seconds in winning the race in 2011. But even before he goes to the gate, Kitasan Black has already set a new record. His share of the total votes rewrites the record held since the Takarazuka became a graded race in 1984. The previous record was set 27 years ago by racing icon Oguri Cap, when he won 82 percent of the ballots.  

The Takarazuka Kinen is the 11th race on the Hanshin card of 12 on June 25. Post time is 15:40 local time.

Here is a look at the likely top picks:

Kitasan Black: Considered by most to be the overwhelming favorite for the Takarazuka Kinen winner's circle is, of course, Kitasan Black. But it will be his second bid in the race and he didn't make it the first time. Last year, he ran third in the Takarazuka after a third, second and first in the Arima Kinen (Grand Prix), Osaka Hai and Tenno Sho (Spring), respectively. This year, his form has improved, with a second and two firsts in those same races following his win of the Japan Cup. And, his back-to-back win of the Tenno Sho (Spring) this year was run in record time. A literal heavyweight that aced the 3,200 meters of the Tenno Sho (Spring) running at 536 kg, this son of Black Tide showed he could handle a jump from 2,000 meters to 3,200 meters when he took both the Osaka Hai and the Tenno Sho (Spring). Whether he can do it the other way around will be seen on Sunday. Kitasan Black is to be partnered with Yutaka Take, whose four wins of the Takarazuka Kinen gives him the record. Take last won 11 years ago aboard Triple Crown champion Deep Impact.

Cheval Grand: The Heart's Cry-sired Cheval Grand has not made the winner's circle in his last four races, but he has come close, with seconds in the Grade 2 Hanshin Daishoten and the Grade 1 Tenno Sho (Spring). Cheval Grand is gunning for his first win of a top-level race and came very close last out in the Tenno Sho (Spring) when he finished in second, 1 1/4 lengths off Kitasan Black. For two consecutive years, Kitasan Black and Cheval Grand finished only 0.2 seconds apart in the Tenno Sho (Spring), but this year their overall times were nearly a full 3 seconds faster. The 2,200 meters of the Takarazuka though may prove a bit short for Cheval Grand, who has not notched a win at less than 2,400 meters since breaking his maiden in October of 2014. He did draw wide in both the Japan Cup and the Arima Kinen (Grand Prix), and the smaller field of this year's Takarazuka Kinen will be a plus even if he draws wide again. Cheval Grand is a consistent runner and will also have the prowess of Yuichi Fukunaga on his side. Fukunaga, currently No. 6 in the JRA jockey rankings, has taken the reins in Cheval Grand's last eight starts, from which he has gained two wins, two seconds and two thirds. This will be Fukunaga's 16th bid in the Takarazuka and he has yet to bag it. His father, Yoichi, captured the race in 1978 and if son Yuichi were to win, it would be only the third time both father and son can boast the Takarazuka feather in their caps.

Sciacchetra: Expected to be paired with French rider Christophe Lemaire is the 4-year-old black colt Sciacchetra, named after the sweet wine from northern Italy. The son of Manhattan Cafe has only had seven starts in his young career, but he brought home winning wagers in all but his last start, when he finished ninth in the Tenno Sho (Spring). Four wins, a second and a third decorated this colt's rise since his debut a year ago. Trainer Katsuhiko Sumii stepped him up in class with nearly each race and the colt took on his first Grade 1 after winning the Grade 2 Nikkei Sho in March at Nakayama. Raced successfully over 2,000-2,500 meters up until the Tenno Sho (Spring) over 3,200 meters, the extra distance was likely more a factor in finishing some 7 lengths off the winner than a lack of ability. And thus, the colt is gaining quite a bit of attention for Sunday's spring finale.

Satono Crown: A 5-year-old by Marju, Satono Crown looks to notch his first Grade 1 race at home, after six failed attempts. He found success at the top, however, on his first overseas jaunt last December, when he captured the Hong Kong Vase and beat out Breeders' Cup Turf champion Highland Reel. Sixth in last year's Takarazuka Kinen, Satono Crown followed the Hong Kong Vase victory with a win of the Grade 2 2,200-meter Kyoto Kinen, before running sixth in the 2,000-meter Osaka Hai last start. He finished 0.4 seconds behind Kitasan Black in that race and the extra furlong this time is seen as a plus. Satono Crown is bred by Northern Farm, which has bred six of this year's Takarazuka Kinen nominees and has already nabbed six Grade 1 events this year. Mirco Demuro is pegged for the ride.

Gold Actor: Looking to win his first Grade 1 event in a year and a half is Gold Actor, a 6-year-old son of Screen Hero. His seventh-place finish last out in the Tenno Sho (Spring) showed improvement over last year's12th-place finish and Gold Actor ran third in the Grade 2 Nikkei Sho prior to that coming off a layoff. In last year's Arima Kinen (Grand Prix), Gold Actor finished half a length behind Kitasan Black in third place. The year before that, Gold Actor topped the Arima Kinen (Grand Prix) field and Kitasan Black finished in third place, almost a length behind Gold Actor, setting the scene for a fine bit of revenge if Gold Actor can top Kitasan Black on Sunday. This will be Gold Actor's third race following a 3-month spell and it is over a distance he is more comfortable with. Three of Gold Actor's previous nine wins have come at distances in the 2,000-2,400 meter range. Partnered with Gold Actor for his second time in the horse's career will be Norihiro Yokoyama, who has ridden winners in the Takarazuka twice before.

Mikki Queen: Last out, the 5-year-old Deep Impact-sired Mikki Queen ran seventh in the Victoria Mile, a race she was runnerup in 2016. The mile was a bit busy, however, and Mikki Queen was unable to handle the blistering late speed that clinched the race this year. An extra 3 furlongs this time may stand her well. Mikki Queen took three of her five career wins at distances in the 2,000-2,400 meter range. Also, she has proven her mettle against the males, including in the Arima Kinen (Grand Prix) last year, when her fifth-place finish was only 0.4 seconds behind runnerup Kitasan Black. She has three wins and three seconds at Hanshin. If Mikki Queen were to pull off a victory on Sunday, she would become only the fourth female in the Takarazuka Kinen to do so. Last year the 5-year-old mare Marialite won the race.


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