Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger) (G1) - Preview
After a thrilling Shuka Sho saw 3-year-old superstar filly Almond Eye carry off the honors, Kyoto Racecourse is once again the place to be on Sunday, Oct. 21, when it will host the 79th running of the Grade 1 Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger). It is run over 3,000 meters on the outer turf track and takes in roughly one and a half circuits of the course. Twenty 3-year-old colts have been nominated for the final leg of the Triple Crown, and for the past 12 years there has been a full gate of 18 runners. There will be no Triple Crown winner again this year, with different horses winning the first two legs, but Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) winner Epoca d’Oro will take on the race, whereas Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) winner Wagnerian will be heading to the Tenno Sho (Autumn).
Step races leading into the Kikuka (pronounced “Kikka”) Sho have been the Grade 2 Asahi Hai St. Lite Kinen over 2,200 meters at Nakayama, Grade 2 Kobe Shimbun Hai over 2,400 meters at Hanshin, and Grade 3 Niigata Kinen over 2,000 meters, and all of these races were run in September. Despite the somewhat unpredictable nature of the race, six first favorites have been victorious in the past 10 years, with Kiseki the latest one in 2017, slogging it out in the heavy conditions last year. Toho Jackal holds the race record when he won in 2014, winning in a time of 3 minutes, 1.0 seconds. Horses trained at the Miho Training Center have not won the race for 16 years, proving the Ritto-based runners have a real stranglehold on the race.
All colts are set to carry 57kg, and the winner’s check this year amounts to ¥120 million. Final declarations for the race and the barrier draw will come out later in the week. The Kikuka Sho will be Race 11 on Sunday’s card at Kyoto, with a post time of 15:40 local time. Here’s a look at some of the runners expected to head the betting market:
Epoca d’Oro: The 3-year-old colt by Orfevre hails from the stable of leading trainer, Hideaki Fujiwara, and was this year’s Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) winner and Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) runner-up, and has already won in the region of ¥270 million in prize money. Assistant trainer at the stable, Nobuyuki Tashiro, recently commented on the horse: “After beginning his autumn campaign, he’s in pretty good shape, and I don’t think the 3,000 meters is a problem. He just lacked a little in his last race, but he will come on for that run.” Epoca d’Oro is coming off a fourth place finish in the Grade 2 Kobe Shimbun Hai.
Blast Onepiece: The Harbinger colt is an interesting prospect here, coming off his recent win in the Grade 3 Niigata Kinen over 2,000 meters in September, and he finished fifth in this year’s Derby, the only time he hasn’t won. Trainer Masahiro Otake will be hoping the horse can give him his first ever Grade 1 win. “There’s been some time before the Kikuka Sho, so I thought it would be a good idea to run him in the Niigata Kinen. He has a slight weakness in his right foreleg, so to give him a run left-handed at Niigata would not be hard on him. He got lazy in the race, but when the jockey urged him on, he produced a good finish to go on and win,” the trainer said.
Generale Uno: A reasonable purchase at the 2016 Hokkaido Select Sale, Generale Uno is the sort of horse to give everyone involved with him an interesting time, to say the least. The colt by Screen Hero very much likes to do his own thing, but he has won four times from seven starts, and has only been unplaced once. Trainer Eiichi Yano said, “It was a good win in the St. Lite Kinen, and for him to take up a forward position looks the way for him to race. Unfortunately in the Derby, he pulled a bit too much. He came back from a break at Northern Farm Tenei on Oct. 3 and he looks much the same as always.”
Etario: Jockey Mirco Demuro looks set to ride Etario, and the Stay Gold colt is looking for a change of luck, having finished second five times in eight starts. He was also fourth in the Derby. He surely won’t be far away again if all goes well. “In the Kobe Shimbun Hai, he just hung a little in the closing stages, but he got to run his own race, showed a good turn of foot, and I can be happy with that run before his big race. He’s recovered well from that race and things are going well with him,” trainer Yasuo Tomomichi said.
Grail: The colt by Heart’s Cry won his first two races as a 2-year-old at Kyoto, and has remained competitive throughout his 3-year-old career as well. He finished third most recently to Generale Uno in the Grade 2 Asahi Hai St. Lite Kinen. His trainer, Kenji Nonaka, is another handler looking for his first Grade 1 win. “He was coming back from injury last time, but still managed to put in a good performance and run well. He’s looked good in training since having had that run, and he’s moving well,” Nonaka said.
Meisho Tekkon: Trainer Yoshitada Takahashi produced Fine Needle to win the Sprinters Stakes recently, and it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that another top prize awaits connections here. Meisho Tekkon is four wins from eight starts and is proving a tough nut to crack in a finish, as seen when only narrowly beaten by Wagnerian in the Grade 2 Kobe Shimbun Hai most recently. An assistant training staff at the stable commented: “He went straight to the front in his last race, and just got pipped at the post. Considering he was returning from a spell, it was a good race to lead him into his next one.”
Fierement: Man of the moment, Christophe Lemaire, looks set to ride Fierement, a colt by Deep Impact who has just had three starts but has won twice. He’s coming off a second place finish in the Grade 3 Radio Nikkei Sho over 1,800 meters at Fukushima, and while he has never gone beyond 1,800 meters, his career looks to be on the up. Trainer Takahisa Tezuka said, “He did well last time at Fukushima, which I think is a track that doesn’t suit him. He then had a break at Northern Farm Tenei and came back to the stable at the end of September. While it might have been good for him to have a trial race, his reactions are good enough, and the rotation is such that he can go directly to this race.”