Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger) (G1) - Preview
Ho O Sabel
Following on from the fillies in the Shuka Sho last Sunday, it’s the turn of the colts to show what they’re made of this coming Sunday, Oct. 20, when Kyoto Racecourse once again hosts the final Classic of the year, the Grade 1 Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger). Since Orfevre’s win in the race in 2011, Japan remains on hold for another Triple Crown winner, and the wait won’t be over this time either. Both Roger Barows (this year’s Japanese Derby winner, now retired) and Saturnalia (the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) winner, being aimed at the autumn Tenno Sho (Autumn)) won’t be lining up on Sunday, leaving the door open for another 3-year-old to grab all the attention. Such is the strength in depth of the younger generation though, this year’s Kikuka Sho has managed to attract 22 nominations, with the first two Classic winners absent from the list.
This year is the 80th running of the Kikuka Sho, and the runners have to take on the 3,000 meters of the outer turf course at Kyoto, making it a real stamina test. There will be a maximum 18 runners in the final lineup, and all the colts will carry 57kg. Step races leading up to this year’s final Classic have included the Akanko Tokubetsu over 2,600 meters at Sapporo in July, Grade 2 Asahi Hai St. Lite Kinen over 2,200 meters at Nakayama in September, and Grade 2 Kobe Shimbun Hai over 2,400 meters at Hanshin, also run in September. The latter two races are official Kikuka Sho trials, where the first three home qualify for the Grade 1 showpiece.
Five first favorites have scored in the past 10 years, and the last one to do so was Kiseki in 2017, when the ground came up soft. Last year saw seventh favorite Fierement outstay the others, and winning trainer Takahisa Tezuka finally broke the 16 year run that horses trained at Ritto Training Center had enjoyed, by bringing home the spoils to Miho Training Center. Record time for the race belongs to Toho Jackal, who won in a time of 3 minutes, 1.0 seconds in 2014. First place prize money this year is JPY120 million (just over USD1 million). The big race on Sunday will be Race 11 on the Kyoto card, with a post time of 15:40 local time.
Here’s a look at some of the runners expected to be in the lineup:
Velox: The Just a Way colt would be a logical choice here after finishing second in the Satsuki Sho and third in the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby). He has shown his consistency by only being unplaced once from eight career starts, which have included three wins. He is coming off a second-place finish in the Grade 2 Kobe Shimbun Hai over 2,400 meters in September, and the stable was satisfied with that prep race. “It was a slow pace last time and he took the bit in the early stages, but he could run on well at the finish. Despite it being a muddling race, we could take some positives from it and look to this next race without any worries at all,” said assistant trainer Teruhiko Saruhashi. Leading jockey Yuga Kawada, who takes the ride on Velox, has plenty of Grade 2 and 3 races to his name this year, and surely it’s just a matter of time before he notches his 13th JRA Grade 1 win.
World Premiere: Another consistent colt, World Premiere has been ridden by Yutaka Take in all five of his races and has never finished outside the top three. The Deep Impact colt has two wins at Kyoto from three starts, although they have come over the distance of 1,800 meters. Trainer Yasuo Tomomichi commented: “He sweated up a bit in the paddock last time and wasn’t so relaxed, but in the race itself he ran well, finishing strongly, so I was pleased with that. In the meantime, he’s seemed calmer and it’s a sign he’s becoming more mature.” World Premiere is coming off a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Kobe Shimbun Hai, and Take is set to ride him again.
Nishino Daisy: The Harbinger colt has a lot of potential, but it hasn’t been easy to get the best out of him so far. Having said that, he did finish fifth in the Japanese Derby, and again placed fifth in his latest race, the Grade 2 Asahi Hai St. Lite Kinen over 2,200 meters at Nakayama. It will be his fourth Grade 1 this time, and connections will be hoping they’ve worked out the way to get him to run to his best ability. “Last time in the St. Lite Kinen, he raced from well back, but he managed to get into the flow of the race and was relaxed. It worked out well and was a good enough prep race for him. On that performance, I don’t see a problem with the 3,000 meters of the Kikuka Sho,” trainer Noboru Takagi said. Another thing going Nishino Daisy’s way is the booking of Christophe Lemaire for the big race.
Hishi Gekko: One of two horses among the nominations for trainer Noriyuki Hori, the Rulership colt has only run as a 3-year-old, but has won his last two races, the latest in July at Sapporo over 2,600 meters. Although he will have to carry more weight, the half-brother to Stelvio looks an interesting entry. Assistant trainer Kazutomo Mori said, “He stayed in Hokkaido after his two wins there and came back to Miho at the end of August. Everything has gone well with him as he’s picked up in training from the middle of September. Finishing third in the Principal Stakes in the spring, he didn’t run in the Japanese Derby, so we’ve had this race in mind for him.” Another factor is the booking of jockey Christophe Soumillon for the ride.
Satono Lux: The colt by Deep Impact is still looking to find his best form and justify his high cost price at the 2017 Select Sale. Things could be coming right for him after finishing second to Lion Lion in the Grade 2 Asahi Hai St. Lite Kinen last time. Trainer Yasutoshi Ikee also thinks the horse is improving. “He managed to finish second last time, despite things being a bit tight for him early on in the race. He seems to have developed during the summer months, and although he’s still a young horse, I expect good results to come his way,” Ikee said recently.
Red Genial: The colt bred at Shadai Farm finished eighth in the Japanese Derby, but has an enviable track record at Kyoto, always finishing in the first three from four starts at the track, which have included two wins. Trained by Yoshitada Takahashi, assistant trainer at the stable, Kenichi Nakatsuka said, “It was a muddling race last time with a small field, but he got to break well and run smoothly, and I think he can only come on for having that race. He is mentally and physically sharper now.” Red Genial’s race jockey is expected to be Manabu Sakai, whose two Grade 1 wins to date include his win aboard Toho Jackal in the race in 2014.
A couple of other runners worthy of note are Ho O Sabel , who is coming off a five-length win in the Aganogawa Tokubetsu over 2,200 meters at Niigata in August, and now has three wins from five starts, and the one filly nominated, Melody Lane, one of the lightest horses ever to run in JRA races, weighing around 338kg. She will get a 2kg allowance in the Kikuka Sho if she runs, and the daughter of Orfevre is coming off a win at Hanshin in September over 2,600 meters in record time.