Hanshin Juvenile Fillies (G1) - Preview
Rock This Town
As the racing year winds down, the competition for the up-and-coming youngsters of racing reaches its peak with two Grade 1s for 2-year-olds. First come the fillies on Sunday, Dec. 10 in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies, a 1,600-mile test over turf at the Hanshin venue west of Osaka. Winner of the event, the only Grade 1 event for 2-year-old fillies, is a shoo-in for the JRA award for Best 2-Year-Old Filly.
The race pays 65 million yen to the winner and 23 fillies have been nominated. Only 11 of those nominees have already secured a berth in the race and 12 others will be competing for a spot even before they make it to the racetrack. The draw of the lot will determine the final lineup and in the past decade four of the lucky ones went on to win the race. This year’s nominees boast six unbeaten fillies, but it will be the first time in two years that there will be none that have won more than two races in their budding careers. The 18 who make the cut for Sunday will each carry 54kg.
The 1,600-meter outer “A” course at Hanshin, where races are run to the right, is the course used for both the 2-year-old Grade 1s and the Grade 1 Oka Sho (Japanese 1,000 Guineas), the first race in the fillies triple crown. It should be noted that the course was renovated in December 2006 and data prior to that would not be applicable for the current Hanshin Juvenile Fillies, which marks its 69th running this year. The Hanshin Juvenile Fillies starts in the backstretch and continues for 444 meters before the first turn. From 600 meters out, the track dips about 2 meters over the next 400 some meters before rising steeply for 2 meters again over the race’s final furlong, making it a test of skill and stamina and one that well tests the cream of the crop.
Vodka holds the record for the race with her time of 1 minute, 33.1 seconds set in 2006. The Hanshin Juvenile Fillies is the 11th race on the Sunday card of 12 at Hanshin Racecourse. Post time is 15:40 local time. Here’s a look at some of the expected top picks.
Rock This Town: Raking in the rave reviews is Rock This Town, a first-crop daughter of 2011 Triple Crown champion Orfevre. Hailing from the Miho-based stable of Yoshitaka Ninomiya, this chestnut leapt from her debut win to the Grade 3 Sapporo Nisai Stakes and captured that too, showing prowess in keeping energy in reserve for a sharp late kick in both 1,800-meter starts. In fact, she rocketed over the final 600 meters in her debut in a time of 32.5 seconds. She’s a big girl, already weighing in at just under 500kg and her big stride coupled with fiery acceleration are impressive. Suited to wide-open spaces, the change to Hanshin will be a plus as compared to Sapporo and the main concern this Sunday will be the long haul west to Hanshin and whether she can maintain her condition during that lengthy trip. Another concern will be the fact that Rock This Town will be racing for the first time in over 3 months. She’s expected to have the support of Japan’s leading jockey Christophe Lemaire, currently out in front by 17 wins. Lemaire rode both her starts to date and rode winners both times he took on the Hanshin Juvenile Filles in the past. The last filly from a first-year sire to win the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies was Vodka in 2006.
Lily Noble: The Rulership-sired Lily Noble is also on a two-way winning streak, both of them over 1,600 meters. Also nearly tipping the scales at 500kg, Lily Noble will be racing at Hanshin for the first time. The track, however, is close to her home base of Ritto and the stable of Kenichi Fujioka. It will be a huge leap for her to the Grade 1 level, as she has only run in a lower-class conditions race thus far. A late debut at the end of October will see her taking on her third race in just over two months. It’s a tight schedule but she is reported to be in excellent shape, with no areas of concern, and with her recent runs, will likely be sharp and light on her feet. Yuga Kawada, who rode her for her win at Kyoto last out, gave her top marks. “She’s a very good horse and I think she has a great career ahead of her,” Kawada said.
Lucky Lilac: Another filly by new stallion Orfevre is Lucky Lilac and she too is 2-for-2 and coming off a win of the Grade 3 Artemis Stakes, a mile race run on Oct. 28 at Tokyo. Lucky Lilac won her debut at Niigata with her late speed but last start it was a conquest of shifty ground that helped boost her to the winner’s circle. With her nice clean stride, she can do well on a hard track, but rain or shine, this girl should be able to handle it. A good starter, she should be able to garner position without a struggle. It will be her first time racing to the right but she has shown no problems handling it in morning training. Her trainer, Mikio Matsunaga, was known in his jockey days to be quite the fillies’ man. Matsunaga piloted winners in all three of the fillies triple crown races and the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, but failed to win the 2-year-old top event. As a trainer, this will be his first time in three years to field a runner in the race.
Beluga: A month off her win of the Grade 3 Fantasy Stakes, Beluga’s trainer Mitsumasa Nakauchida may well be dreaming of a first Grade 1 victory. By Kinshasha no Kiseki, Beluga returned after two months from her debut win to nab the 1,400-meter Fantasy Stakes under Christian Demuro at Kyoto on Nov. 3. In her debut, she had Joao Moreira in the saddle over 6 furlongs at Sapporo. This time she’ll have a furlong more than she’s had until now, but her debut, in which she caught the frontrunner from 10 horses back with 11-second laps down the stretch, would indicate that an extra furlong isn’t going to do her in. “She has fantastic acceleration,” said Demuro after her last start. “One more furlong shouldn’t be a problem.” Though there are no foreign-based runners in this year’s Hanshin Juvenile Fillies, there is a foreign-based owner. Australian Robert Anderson owns Beluga, one of two JRA-registered 2-year-olds belonging to him in Japan.
Mau Lea: Unbeaten in her two career starts, the slender Mau Lea is the daughter of Deep Impact that is receiving the most attention. She scooped two 1,600-meter races at Tokyo, the latter being the Akamatsu Sho, a lower-level conditions race on Nov. 19. She too has winning late speed and her last two furlongs were run in times of 11-11.2. According to jockey Keita Tosaki, she’s no shrinking violet either. “There were traffic problems last out and it was a tough race. But, she didn’t cave and she quickened well in the straight. She has guts,” Tosaki said. She can settle well too and, although her last start had only nine horses in the field and her debut 15, she shouldn’t be bothered by the extra company. Mau Lea is full sister to 2013 Oka Sho winner Ayusan and is expected to be able to handle her first time racing to the right. Key will be if she can weather the trip to the track without losing too much weight.
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2017 Winner: Lucky Lilac
2016 Winner: Soul Stirring