2015 Takamatsunomiya Kinen (G1) - the 3rd Leg of the Global Sprint Challenge - Preview
The 45th Takamatsunomiya Kinen will open the JRA's Grade 1 season on turf on March 29 at Chukyo Racecourse with 20 nominations, including one from abroad, submitted for the 18 places in the 1,200-meter race.
The Paul O'Sullivan-trained Hong Kong Sprint champion Aerovelocity will be the first foreign horse to run in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen in 12 years, the first since Disturbingthepeace and Echo Eddie finished 13th and 17th, respectively. No horse from overseas has ever won the race.
The 7-year-old New Zealand-bred gelding became the lone overseas raider after fellow Hong Kong-based Lucky Nine pulled out.
The competition among Japanese sprinters remains stiff ever since Lord Kanaloa called it a career two years ago, and this year's Takamatsunomiya Kinen is up for grabs with no clear favorite in the field.
Five-year-old Copano Richard, under superstar Yutaka Take, will be back to defend the title he won a year ago by three lengths over Snow Dragon, who went on to capture the Sprinters Stakes in the fall but has not entered in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen this year.
Copano Richard does not have a win in five starts since last year's triumph – his first Grade 1 victory – and is coming off sixth place in the March 1 Hankyu Hai at 1,400 meters, a race he won last season. Trainer Toru Miya attributed the defeat to the distance and the way the race unfolded, and was confident the Daiwa Major son will rebound.
"He was pretty fit for his last race but I think the pace may have been a bit too much for him," Miya said. "He won on this stage here last year so the course clearly suits him. We're definitely looking to bounce back."
Six-year-old Straight Girl did the JRA proud by finishing third in the Hong Kong Sprint in December, a length behind Aerovelocity. The Fuji Kiseki daughter also showed in the 2014 Takamatsunomiya Kinen, and has been the most consistent performer in the G1 sprint circuit since with a third-place finish in the Victoria Mile, as well as being runner-up in the Sprinters Stakes to Snow Dragon.
Straight Girl, who could very well end up being the morning-line favorite, will race for the first time since Hong Kong. But the Hideaki Fujiwara camp fully expects its mare to challenge for her first G1 title, and anything less would be massively disappointing.
"She turned in a strong performance the last time out even though it was her first time racing overseas," assistant trainer Nobuyuki Tashiro said, referring to the Hong Kong Sprint. "She was well taken care of at the farm, and came back to us looking good as ever. The layoff never seems to bother her so we're hoping she can finally win a title."
Sakura Gospel, winner of the Ocean Stakes, a major prep race to the Takamatsunomiya Kinen, will throw his hat into the ring for the fourth straight year. His best finish was fourth two years ago.
Pacesetters Am Ball Bleiben, who went wire-to-wire in the Keihan Hai and Silk Road Stakes, and Hakusan Moon, who was third in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen in 2013, also make intriguing picks in the third leg of the Global Sprint Challenge.
The Takamatsunomiya Kinen has a purse of 197.6 million yen with the winner to receive 95 million yen. It is the 11th race on the card, and post time is 3:40 p.m.