2015 Sprinters Stakes (G1) - 8th leg of the Global Sprint Challenge - Preview
Kicking off the autumn G1 series on Sunday, Oct. 4 is the Sprinters Stakes, a speed test over 1,200 meters of turf, the eighth leg of the 10-race Global Sprint Challenge. After being run at Niigata in 2014, this year, the Sprinters returns to its usual venue, the newly renovated Nakayama Racecourse east of Tokyo.
2015 marks the 49th running of the race and 22 short-distance aces aged from 3 to 8 have been nominated for the race’s 16 berths in hopes of bringing home the 95 million yen winner’s share or at least a share of the nearly 200 million yen in total prize money. The race, as it often does, sees competition from abroad this year as well, as Hong Kong fields the 7-year-old gelding Rich Tapestry, who will be the first overseas-based entrant since 2012.
Races at Nakayama are run to the right and the Sprinters Stakes is run on the horseshoe-shape outer turf course, which has a circumference of just over 1,877 meters, a width range of 18-26 meters and a homestretch 310 meters in length. The Sprinters Stakes starts on the backstretch from a downhill run of 200 meters to the first turn, which curves to the right for 400 meters before leading into a sharp final bend for the straight, a run to the finish that rises steeply over the last 200 meters.
Nakayama is said to favor an inside draw, but that’s not the case in the Sprinters Stakes. In fact, it’s the opposite as far as winners go. Though horses from all posts have finished in the top five spots in the Sprinters Stakes over the last decade, seven horses with double-digits on their saddle cloths have won over the past 10 races. The No. 7 orange bracket has been especially lucky. Lord Kanaloa won and holds the record of 1 minute 6.7 seconds after breaking from the No. 16 gate in 2012.
The Sprinters Stakes earned G3 status in 1984 and three years later, became a G2 event as a major prep race for the 1,600-meter Yasuda Kinen held in June.
The Sprinters Stakes was made a G1 in 1990 and its date changed to a week before the yearend Arima Kinen. In 1994, the race opened to overseas-based entries and, in 2000, it was moved again to its present slot in the last week of September or first week of October. Weights are by age, with 3-year-olds carrying 55 kg and 4-year-olds and up carrying 57 kg. Fillies and mares receive a 2-kg allowance.
The Global Sprint Challenge was expanded to 10 races in 2012 with the inclusion of the Dubai Golden Shaheen. The series offers a $1 million bonus to any horse who wins in three different countries outside his native region. (None in the Sprinters Stakes is eligible this year).
There is no one standout in this year’s lineup and neither Aerovelocity, the winner of the spring sprint Takamatsunomiya Kinen nor last year’s Sprinters Stakes champion Snow Dragon are among the nominees. Finishers in the top spots from the spring are well represented and fresh talent abounds, as well as a strong turnout of promising fillies and mares. Following are the expected popular picks from the home team.
Last year’s runnerup, the 6-year-old Straight Girl, is back for revenge and sitting pretty, just off a nice run in the Centaur Stakes. The daughter of Fuji Kiseki traveled to Hong Kong following the Sprinters Stakes last year and landed a third in the Hong Kong Sprint, then took on the Takamatsunomiya Kinen without a prep and ran 13th out of 18. Next out, however, in the Victoria Mile, her sixth top-level bid, she finally reached the winner’s circle. Sitting out the summer to recoup and refresh, she came back for a fourth-place finish in the Centaur Stakes (G2) earlier this month and looks nicely primed for her second G1 victory. She’s said to have overcome any hauling problems so the trip east shouldn’t raise issues and she’ll be looking for a fast track.
The 5-year-old Deep Impact-sired Uliuli looks like she may be something of a late bloomer. She was up and down throughout last year and though she did nab her first G3 in January of 2014 and a second in a G2 three months later, her two G1 bids ended in double-digit finishes. She started this year with a fifth but after being given shorter distances has made the money in all her four starts. Those included a win of the G3 CBC Sho in July and a second last out in the G2 Centaur Stakes despite having been drawn wide. She just missed out on taking the Summer Sprint Series.* Word is she’s matured a lot mentally and is up for a challenge. Her third G1 may prove the charm.
Bel Canto, a fetching chestnut 4-year-old filly by champion sprinter Sakura Bakushin O, is coming off two wins in a row, both G3 events – the 1,000-meter Ibis Summer Dash, which she captured easily, and the 1,200-meter Kitakyushu Kinen. Though she won the G2 Hochi Hai Fillies’ Revue in March of 2014, Bel Canto has at best a fifth at the G1 level (in last year’s Sprinters Stakes at Niigata). But, she has returned after time off in fine form and looks like she may have come into her own.
Active Minoru, a 3-year-old colt by Statue of Liberty, topped the field of the G2 1,200-meter Centaur Stakes last out following a 5-month layoff. His only run at Nakayama was in the New Zealand Trophy the race prior to that where he finished 15th and was never a factor. He is said to have come out of his last race well. The high-strung colt has always had problems relaxing but his last spell looks to have done him well though connections say the focus is still on keeping him calm.
Ukiyono Kaze, a 5-year-old mare by On Fire, has also just put two wins behind her, the last a win of the G3 Keeneland Cup over 1,200 meters at Sapporo. Though her five starts before that were all at the earning 16-million or less class, she did notch another win of a G3 in February 2013 and a second in the G3 Fairy Stakes at Nakayama the month before. Trainer Takanori Kikuzawa says he’s not surprised at her recent wins. “After all, she did win a graded race early on in her 3-year-old year. But problems with her legs meant she had to have a lot of time off. She’s solid now, thanks to having treated her with care.”
The 4-year-old Deep Impact-sired Mikki Isle, winner of the NHK Mile last year and third in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen this past March, ran 15th in his next and only other race after that, the Yasuda Kinen. Trainer Hidetaka Otonashi notes that it’s the miles his colt has done poorly at and says 6 furlongs will be just right. Mikki Isle will be racing for the first time since June.
Hakusan Moon, a perpetual runnerup, will be back for his third Sprinters Stakes bid and hoping to capture his first G1. Second in the 2013 Sprinters Stakes, the 6-year-old by Admire Moon ran 13th last year but ran second in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen this year after a second in the G3 Ocean Stakes. In his first race since the March sprint, Hakusan Moon took on the G2 Centaur Stakes last out, but he faded in the stretch to finish eighth. Trainer Masato Nishizono is hoping the return to Nakayama will prove a plus.
After a poor year last year, Teehaff, a 5-year-old by Storming Home, has done an about-face, perhaps thanks to his new pairing with jockey Yusaku Kokubun. The Sheik Mohammed-owned Japan-bred Teehaff has finished in the top three spots in all of his six outings this year. The last two were at the G3 level, a win of the Hakodate Sprint Stakes on June 21 and a third in the Keeneland Cup last out, on Aug. 30. Both races were over the Sprinters distance and if he hadn’t run into traffic problems and missed his cue, says his connections, the Keeneland Cup results would likely have been better. The Sprinters Stakes will be only his second bid in a G1 ever. His first, as a 2-year-old ended with a fifth-place finish in the Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes.
* Summer Sprint Series: A series of six races (Hakodate Sprint Stakes, CBC Sho, Ibis Summer Dash, Kitakyushu Kinen, Keeneland Cup and Centaur Stakes) held from June to September. Runners are awarded points depending on their finish in these races, and the horse with the most points overall is declared Series Champion (based on a minimum requirement of 13 points and at least one win). The owner of the Series Champion receives prize money of 32 million yen and the stable connection 8 million yen.
The Sprinters Stakes is the 11th race on the Sunday card of 12 at Nakayama. Scheduled post time is 3:40 p.m. local time.
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[ Sprinters Stakes ]
2022 Winner: Gendarme
2021 Winner: Pixie Knight
[ Centaur Stakes ]
2022 Winner: Meikei Yell
2021 Winner: Resistencia