Japan Racing Journal Feature Article: "Review of Japanese Horse Racing in the Second Half of 2014"
The second half of the 2014 season had to bid farewell to two of the JRA’s brightest stars in Gentildonna and Just a Way, two horses who forever will hold their own chapter in Japanese racing history.
Five-year-old Gentildonna went out with a bang, winning the last start of her stellar career in her first try at the Arima Kinen (The Grand Prix) in her first run at Nakayama. The Deep Impact daughter’s second Grade 1 victory of the season - after the Dubai Sheema Classic in March - effectively earned her second Horse of the Year honors.
The Sei Ishizaka-trained Gentildonna, out of the Bertolini mare Donna Blini, finished her career with 10 wins from 19 starts including seven G1 wins, tied for the most all-time alongside her sire, Symboli Rudolf, T.M.Opera O and Vodka. Gentildonna’s total earnings of 1.73 billion yen are the second highest ever, trailing only T.M.Opera O.
There’s more: Gentildonna is just one of four horses to have swept the filly’s Triple Crown and became the first 3-year-old filly to lift the 2012 Japan Cup - and the first horse ever to defend the title in 2013. She is one of eight to be named the season’s best thoroughbred twice.
“I believe the award is a testament to her performance throughout the year,” Ishizaka said. “She couldn't win the two races in the fall at Tokyo (the Tenno Sho (Autumn) and Japan Cup) after winning the Dubai Sheema Classic in the spring. But she showed her mettle by winning the Arima Kinen, despite it being her first and only start at Nakayama, a course that runs clockwise.
“I think that she ended her career with victory left a huge impression and led to the award. We're grateful for all the support she has had from the fans.”
Added Keita Tosaki, who rode Gentildonna in the Arima Kinen for his first and last time: “It's an honor she was named horse of the year in the last season of her career, and a privilege to have ridden her.
“She's retiring but I expect her to have lots of good kids and hopefully, I get the opportunity to ride one of them.”
Just a Way - Dubai Duty Free
Just a Way, also 5, wasn’t even a length behind Gentildonna in the Arima Kinen but settled for fourth in his 22nd and final start.
The Heart’s Cry son, trained by Naosuke Sugai, leaves the track with three G1 victories, all in a row from the 2013 Tenno Sho (Autumn), the 2014 Dubai Duty Free and Yasuda Kinen. His performance in the Dubai Duty Free raised a lot of eyebrows around the international community, winning by more than six lengths and catapulting him to the top of the World’s Best Racehorse Thoroughbred Rankings - the first Japanese racehorse to hold the spot on his own.
Just a Way was also runner-up to Epiphaneia in the Japan Cup and eighth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, which looked to have offered so much promise for the Japanese contingency but turned out badly. Sugai said he had done everything he possibly could in preparing his horse for the Arc.
“It's not easy competing against the best in the world,” said Sugai, who also had five-time G1 champion Gold Ship in the Arc; Gold Ship finished 14th out of 20 under Norihiro Yokoyama. “It was a tough race. I feel terrible for everyone that backed us because we were coming along so well as a team. I hope to be back for another shot because unless you try, you can't succeed.”
Joining Just a Way and Gold Ship at Longchamp was Harp Star, who was the first 3-year-old filly from Japan to take a shot at the Arc. The Deep Impact daughter out of the Falbrav mare Historic Star ended up a Japan-best sixth, sitting back during the trip before coming on late. Hiroyoshi Matsuda lamented the filly’s positioning but was still a proud trainer of a horse with a bright future.
“It was her first experience and she lost racing the way she always does so there's not anything more we could have done,” Matsuda said of the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) winner. “Maybe it would have helped if she had position a little more to the front but what's done is done so I'm not going to say any more. She ran her heart out.”The autumn G1 season started in wild fashion, with the first five races won by horses who had never won a graded race - Snow Dragon (Sprinters Stakes), Shonan Pandora (Shuka Sho), Toho Jackal (Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger)), Spielberg (Tenno Sho (Autumn)) and Lachesis (Queen Elizabeth II Cup); it wasn’t until Danon Shark won the Mile Championship that the usual suspects entered the foray.
The JRA’s international showpiece, the Japan Cup, was hyped as the most competitive ever, boasting a field including 12 G1 winners - and it didn’t disappoint as Epiphaneia delivered a performance for the ages, capturing Japan’s richest race four lengths ahead of the world’s top-ranked horse Just a Way, while leaving the likes of newly crowned Tenno Sho (Autumn) champion Spielberg, Gentildonna and Harp Star in the dust.
It was the first G1 title since previous year’s Japanese St. Leger for the Katsuhiko Sumii-trained blueblood, who will be counted on as one of the leaders in the game in 2015 with the departures of Gentildonna and Just a Way. Christophe Soumillon, who rode Epiphaneia in the Japan Cup, hailed his new partner, describing the Symboli Kris S colt, out of American and Japanese Oaks winner Cesario, as the best Japanese horse he’s ever ridden - quite a compliment considering the praise came from someone who’s jockeyed two modern Japanese legends in Orfevre and Buena Vista.
“He just kept accelerating to the finish,” Soumillon said. “He’s the strongest horse I’ve ever ridden. Usually in races at the top level, a horse will not last until the end if he can’t settle at some point during the trip. But he ran like a miler all the way to the final turn. I tried to get him to regroup going into the straight, but he took off as if he were starting the race.”
The Japan Cup Dirt was reborn as the Champions Cup and the inaugural race at Chukyo Racecourse went to Hokko Tarumae, holder of a combined eight top-class dirt titles in the JRA and on the local circuit who is set to race in the March 28 Dubai World Cup. Danon Platina and Shonan Adela captured the Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes and Hanshin Juvenile Fillies, respectively, to reign as the nation’s top 2-year-olds.