Yasuda Kinen (G1) - Preview
The final top-level race at Tokyo Racecourse until the fall season will be run on Sunday, June 3. It’s the Yasuda Kinen, the third big mile to be held over the span of a month, but the only one open to all ages 3 and up, males, females and geldings. The Yasuda Kinen is one of the most important mile Grade 1 events for determining the top miler of the year along with the Mile Championship in the fall at Kyoto.
This year’s lineup of 18 will most likely boast seven Grade 1 winners, including 2017 NHK Mile Cup victor Aerolithe and 2017 Mile Championship winner Persian Knight. The lineup sees a return of only one participant from last year, 2017 third-place finisher Red Falx, but brings many promising new faces, such as Osaka Hai victor Suave Richard, Sungrazer and Real Steel, all expected to be popular picks for the 68th running of the race.
The Yasuda Kinen has long been a favorite target for overseas-based horses, particularly from Hong Kong, and the race has been won by a foreign raider four times before, the last being in 2006 by Bullish Luck. This year sees only one participant from abroad – Hong Kong’s Western Express.
Japanese races considered important lead-up races into the Yasuda Kinen include the Grade 2 Keio Hai Spring Cup, Grade 3 Lord Derby Challenge Trophy, Grade 2 Yomiuri Milers Cup, and Grade 3 Tokyo Shimbun Hai. All the winners of those – Moonquake, He’s in Love, Sungrazer and Lys Gracieux, respectively – are expected to start on Sunday.
The Tokyo turf 1,600 starts at the top of the backstretch and continues 542 meters until the first turn, which gives even those who have drawn wide considerable maneuvering time. The Tokyo stretch, with its 525 meters (225 meters of them uphill), makes for a formidable challenge. Coming at the end of a long meet, tactical decisions, such as whether to save ground or aim for the good, carry all the more weight and upsets are common.
Over the last 10 years, the favorite has won only four times and finished second once. The top three picks on race day have finished in the top three spots 12 times in the past 10 runnings and though a double-digit pick has not won in the past 10 years, seven such longshots have finished in the money in half of the past 10 runnings.
The race record of 1 minute, 31.3 seconds was set by Strong Return in 2012. Here is a look at some of this year’s Yasuda Kinen popular runners:
Suave Richard: Suave Richard aced the Osaka Hai in April and brought home his first Grade 1 victory on his fourth try. His performances at Tokyo have brought him two wins and two seconds, including a close second in the Japanese Derby last year. The biggest unknown facing the 4-year-old son of Heart’s Cry this time out is the “distance.” The colt has raced predominately at distances of 2,000m and up, with only two starts at 1,800m. This will be his first run over a mile. Still, he has raced successfully from a variety of positions and Tokyo should give him his best chance over the mile. Trainer Yasushi Shono says, “He’s not the fastest out of the gate, so we’ve been schooling him so he won’t get left behind. He covered the first 1,000 meters in 56 some seconds and I think his time shows he can handle it.” The past 10 runnings of the Yasuda have seen only horses accustomed to the distance finish in the top three spots and since 1984 only one other horse – Yamanin Zephyr in 1992 – has won the Yasuda Kinen on a first attempt over a mile.
Persian Knight: After losing the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) by a neck last year, this Harbinger-sired colt managed to nab his first Grade 1 with the Mile Championship. On April 1, excellent timing under Yuichi Fukunaga helped him run a close second in the 2,000-meter Grade 1 Osaka Hai. Persian Knight’s three runs at Tokyo thus far (2-7-5), two over the mile, indicate neither the course nor the distance pose problems. Yuga Kawada, on the winner last year and in 2015, is set for the ride on Sunday.
Sungrazer: A highly consistent runner, this 4-year-old son of Deep Impact has finished out of the money only once in his 13-race career, which has consisted mostly of races in the 1,400-1,600 meter range since his 3-year-old year. Six wins, including two Grade 2s, one second, four thirds and a win last out in the Grade 2 Milers Cup on April 22 are likely going to make Sungrazer one of the top choices for the Yasuda Kinen. He has yet to win a top-level event, but he has come close with a third in the Mile Championship last November at Kyoto and that was coming off a 4-month layoff in a race that was won in record time. It will be his first time at Tokyo, and only his second time racing to the left since his career debut at Chukyo in July 2016. That’s a big question mark, but his excellent late speed and the long Tokyo stretch should work in his favor, as should having last week’s Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) winner Yuichi Fukunaga in the saddle. Fukunaga won the Yasuda in 2012 and has piloted Sungrazer in five of his last six races, from which he reaped three wins and two thirds.
Red Falx: By Swept Overboard, the gray Red Falx finished third in the Yasuda last year, only 0.1 seconds off the winner. He then went on to win the Grade 1 Sprinters Stakes next out 4 months later. Though he ran eighth in the Mile Championship and the same in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen, a return to Tokyo should suit this veteran, who prefers to race from far off the pace. At 7 years old, Red Falx is still going strong, has finished in the money in nine of his last 13 starts (including five wins) and is not one to be overlooked.
Real Steel: One of three runners nominated by trainer Yoshito Yahagi, Real Steel returns from his second run in the 1,800-meter Dubai Turf. He failed to notch a back-to-back win but did tie for third. Not bad for his first race in five months. Last year, with the same rotation, he finished 11th in the Yasuda but he’s said to be looking quite good in morning work and expectations are up. The Deep Impact 6-year-old has two graded-stakes wins at Tokyo, albeit over a furlong more, and this will only be his second time over the mile.
Lys Gracieux: Lys Gracieux is one of three females in the lineup this year, all of them 4-year-olds. This daughter of Heart’s Cry missed the Victoria Mile on May 13 by a nose under Yutaka Take and is back for another try just three weeks later. Lys Gracieux beat Satono Ares in the Tokyo Shimbun Hai in February and is well suited to the Tokyo mile. She has run second in four Grade 1 all-female events thus far and if there’s anyone that deserves a win, it’s her, but it has been eight years since a female (Vodka) won the Yasuda Kinen and key will be whether Lys Gracieux can weather the tough rotation. Yutaka Take, who is slated for the ride, has won the Yasuda Kinen three times – in 1990 aboard Oguri Cap, in 1995 with Heart Lake, and on Vodka in 2009.
Satono Ares: Trainer Kazuo Fujisawa is fielding four horses (his most yet) in the Yasuda Kinen – Tower of London, Star of Persia, Moonquake and the Deep Impact colt Satono Ares, considered to have the best shot at the money. Winner of the Asahi Futurity Stakes in 2016, Satono Ares ran 11th in the Satsuki Sho and has not posted a win since last July. But he has proven consistent in his last three starts, which include a second in the Grade 3 Tokyo Shimbun Hai over the Tokyo mile and last out, a close third in the Keio Hai Spring Cup over 7 furlongs at Tokyo. Masatoshi Ebina, who won in 1999 with Air Jihad, is up.
Among other horses worth mentioning is Hong Kong’s Western Express. He’s on his first jaunt abroad and looking to become the fourth foreign raider to take part of the \238.6-million purse out of Japan (the winner gets \110 million). Western Express has yet to capture a top-level competition, but finished second in both the Hong Kong Mile and the Champions Mile. He is fielded by John Size, who has had 10 runners in the Yasuda to date. Hugh Bowman, who is in Japan on a short-term license and was expected to get the ride for Western Express, was suspended in last week’s Japanese Derby for nine days and will not be able to ride on Sunday. Sam Clipperton, a 24-year-old up-and-coming Australian rider based in Hong Kong, is expected to replace Bowman.
Improvement is expected for Aerolithe, who ran fourth in the May 13 Victoria Mile, her first mile since winning the NHK Mile Cup last year and her first race in three months. Moonquake deserves mention as well, a 5-year-old Admire Moon gelding that aced his first Grade 2 bid last out with a fleet final 3-furlong time of 33.2 seconds. He has two wins and two seconds over the mile at Tokyo.
Comment source: Keiba Book