Oka Sho (Japanese 1,000 Guineas) (G1) - Preview
Once again, the big event of the week will be staged at Hanshin Racecourse, where last week’s Grade 1 Osaka Hai saw the field’s only females top the field for a one-two finish. On Sunday, April 12, it’ll be the girls in the spotlight again, as 18 of Japan’s finest 3-year-old fillies take on the 80th running of the Grade 1 Oka Sho.
It’s the first classic of the year and the first leg of the filly triple crown. The Oka Sho, carries a purse of nearly JPY227 million and a first-place prize of JPY105 million.
The shortest of the three turf events and the equivalent of the 1,000 Guineas, the Oka Sho over 1,600 meters will be followed by the 2,400-meter Yushun Himba(Japanese Oaks) next month and the 2,000-meter Shuka Sho in October.
This year’s Oka Sho field of 18, from a total 23 entries, is an especially competitive one, with winners spread across the race’s preps and preliminaries. The last 10 runnings of the Oka Sho have seen the favorite win only twice, but made the top three finishes for five times. Double-digit picks have figured in the top three only twice over the last decade and never in the winner’s circle.
All runners will carry a set weight of 55 kg. The Oka Sho is the 11th race on Hanshin’s Sunday card of 12 and the post time is 15:40. The Oka Sho record was rewritten by Gran Alegria last year and stands at 1 minute 32.7 seconds.
Following is a look at the expected top picks.
Resistencia - The Daiwa Major-sired Resistencia, unbeaten in her three starts last year, is clearly a force to be reckoned with. She capped 2019 with a wire-to-wire win of the Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies (1,600, Hanshin) and won the unanimous vote for Best Two-Year-Old Filly of the year. In March, the big Ritto-based bay returned from three months off for the Grade 2 Tulip Sho (1,600, Hanshin) and taking a more leisurely lead suffered her first loss, a third-place finish 0.2 seconds behind winner Maltese Diosa and a nose behind runnerup Cravache d’Or. The last Juvenile Fillies champion to win the Oka Sho was Apapane in 2010. In the saddle is expected to be Yutaka Take, who rode Resistencia’s debut and has won the Oka Sho for five times, the most of any jockey currently riding.
Maltese Diosa - Runnerup in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies and winner of the Tulip Sho last out March 7 is Maltese Diosa, one of the first crop from Kizuna, the 2013 Japanese Derby champion and a son of Deep Impact. Mile specialist Maltese Diosa scored three wins and two seconds from five starts, all over 1,600 meters. Her win of the Tulip Sho (her first graded-stakes victory) was only by a nose, but breaking from an outside gate, she received strong marks for a solid race. Miho-based trainer Takahisa Tezuka kept the filly at Ritto following the Tulip Sho, which means she’ll be saved the long trip to the track. She has been getting long workouts, good times, and is expected to go to the gate in good form.
Ria Amelia - Deep Impact progeny swept the 2011-2014 runnings of the Oka Sho and won again last year. The Ritto-based Ria Amelia is among the late champion’s daughters considered to have a good shot at the winner’s circle. A big dark bay filly weighing in at over 480 kg, Ria Amelia has only had three career starts, all over the mile. Following her debut win, she scooped the Grade 3 Artemis Stakes at Tokyo, then disappointed as the favorite in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies when she finished sixth. This will be her first start since the Dec. 8 Grade 1. Her track work indicates she is in good shape but it remains to be seen whether she has put her trouble settling to rest, especially as she heads in to the Oka Sho without a prep.
Daring Tact - The Epiphaneia-sired Daring Tact debuted in November last year and has only two starts behind her, both wins and both over the mile. The trainer Haruki Sugiyama is jumping her from a listed race to the big time after, in the Elfin Stakes at Kyoto Feb. 8, he saw her top-class acceleration, late speed that took her from 10 off the front at the turn to the front with 100 meters to go and over the finish line in first by a 4-length margin. The longer stretch of Hanshin should be a plus. Only two horses before her have won the Oka Sho on their third start, the last being Hagino Top Lady in 1980.
Cravache d’Or - A daughter of Heart’s Cry, the Ritto-based Cravache d’Or has made the top three finishes in all of her four starts thus far, three of them at Hanshin. Raced exclusively over 1,600 meters, Cravache d’Or has run in three graded-stakes events and though she has come close has yet to win one. Second in the Saudi Arabia Royal Cup (G3) and third in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies, she missed the Tulip Sho by a nose last out under Mirco Demuro, who is expected to have the ride on Sunday.
Miyamazakura - A gray filly by Deep Impact, Miyamazakura has had four starts thus far, and from them two wins and a second. Previously given distances in the 1,800-2,000 range, she was raced at the mile for the first time last out in the Grade 3 Daily Hai Queen Cup at Tokyo and won, topping Magic Castle by a neck. Trained by the Ritto-based Hideaki Fujiwara, she has been getting ample work and is looking good. Miyamazakura has speed and holds the course record for 2-year-olds at Sapporo. It will be her first time at Hanshin. Yuichi Fukunaga, who rode her in the Queen Cup, will be in the saddle this time.
Magic Castle - Magic Castle is by Deep Impact and, weighing just 430 kg last start, is one of the smallest fillies of the field. Based at the Miho stable of Sakae Kunieda, she has one win and three seconds from four starts, two of them Grade 3s. In November she ran second in the Grade 3 KBS Fantasy Stakes at Kyoto and last out was second to Miyamazakura in the Queen Cup. Traveling on the outside she entered the stretch toward the rear of the field and, turning in the race top time over the final three furlongs of 33.4 seconds, just missed the win. She is in good condition and not one to overlook.
Sanctuaire - Another Miho-based Deep Impact filly to watch is Sanctuaire. She hails from the stable of Kazuo Fujisawa, who fielded last year’s Oka Sho winner Gran Alegria and she has only three starts to present. Unlike most of the other fillies in the Oka Sho lineup, Sanctuaire has not only competed against male horses, she has won against them, specifically in her last start, the Grade 3 Shinzan Kinen at Kyoto on Jan. 12. Her two previous starts, both over the mile were run to the left, her winning debut at Niigata and a second in the Artemis Stakes at Tokyo. She is expected to be paired with Christophe Lemaire, back from quarantine after returning from Dubai and gunning to be the first jockey to win the Oka Sho three years in a row.