Takamatsunomiya Kinen (G1) - Preview
March 27 is the kickoff date for Japan’s spring big-name races, a dazzling lineup of Grade 1 events that continue weekly, nearly nonstop until the end of June. Starting things off is Sunday’s Takamatsunomiya Kinen, a 1,200-meter turf sprint staged at the left-handed Chukyo Racecourse. The 52nd running of the Takamatsunomiya Kinen has attracted 20 nominees, ranging in age from 4 to 8 and including six females and one gelding. Eighteen of those will find a berth.
This year’s field is short on top-level winners compared to the past. Of the nominees, only a trio - Salios, Resistencia, and Grenadier Guards - have laid claim to a Grade 1 event, all as 2-year-olds. Other promising hopefuls are the winners of the important step races. From most recently run, the winners have been: Gendarme (Grade 3 Yukan Fuji Sho Ocean Stakes), Diatonic (Grade 3 Hankyu Hai), Meikei Yell (Grade 3 Silk Road Stakes), and Grenadier Guards (Grade 2 Hanshin Cup). Naran Huleg, Travesura, Sunrise Honest and Shine Garnet also finished in the Top 3 in those races.
The Chukyo 1,200-meter turf race starts in the backstretch. Once straightening for home, there are still 412 meters to go, with a hill starting just 70 meters later and rising nearly two meters over the next 100 meters.
Post time for the 52nd running of the Grade 1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen will be 15:40 local time, and it will be Race 11 on the Sunday card at Chukyo. Prize money for the winner is JPY170 million.
Here is a look at the expected top picks.
Resistencia: The 5-year-old daughter of Daiwa Major missed the winner’s circle here last year by a neck, and in the Sprinters Stakes in early October, she finished second again two lengths off the winner. Both times she had raced from an outside gate. From her seven Grade 1 bids in Japan, Resistencia has won only once (the 2019 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies) and finished second four times. In her first trip abroad last December, the bay mare took on the Hong Kong Sprint, and despite surely being affected by the horrific accident in that race, she finished in second place again less than a length behind the winner. Racing for the first time since returning to Japan, Resistencia is expected to see a new partner, 23-year-old jockey Takeshi Yokoyama, who notched an astounding five Grade 1 wins last year.
Meikei Yell: A Mikki Isle-sired 4-year-old, Meikei Yell has five wins (three over 1,200 meters) from her nine starts and is taking on her fourth Grade 1. She finished fourth in last year’s Sprinters Stakes, where she followed Resistencia over the line by nearly three lengths, but was ahead of Danon Smash. Returning from the Sprinters Stakes, she took on her first race to the left and captured the Grade 3 Silk Road Stakes. Trainer Hidenori Take attributes the win in large part to equipment changes that helped quiet the excitable filly. “I plan to race her with the same equipment as last time. She is eating well and calmer now. I feel she understands a lot more now,” the trainer commented.
Grenadier Guards: The 4-year-old colt Grenadier Guards comes off a win of the Grade 2 Hanshin Cup over 1,400 meters. The colt has failed to finish in Top 3 only twice from his nine starts. He has one win and one third in his three Grade 1 bids thus far, all over the mile. Though he has two wins and two seconds in his four starts over 1,400 meters, this will be his first time at 1,200 meters. His sire, the unbeaten 10-time G1 winner Frankel, raced primarily over the mile. Grenadier Guards, however, also has inherited the sprinter blood from his dam Wavell Avenue, who won the 2015 Breeders Cup Fillies and Mare Sprint. The colt will go to the gate for the first time in three months with his new partner, jockey Yuichi Fukunaga. Fukunaga, who boasts three wins of the Takamatsunomiya Kinen, has ridden the fast work for the last two weeks.
Salios: Salios returns to the track from a third-place finish in the Hong Kong Mile in December, and this time will be his first 1,200 meters race. The son of Heart’s Cry has run in the eight Grade 1 events so far, but has won just one - the 2019 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes. Raced primarily at the mile, Salios was also runnerup over the longer distances of the 2020 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) and Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby). Given his record, the 5-year-old would seem an unlikely candidate for a sprint, but trainer Noriyuki Hori believes that the horse has a good chance here. “His inborn trait was one of the reasons I decided to run him here. His body type and footwork both lend themselves to short distances,” the trainer said.
Diatonic: The third-place finisher in the 2020 Takamatsunomiya Kinen, the Lord Kanaloa-sired Diatonic followed that with a promising victory in the Grade 3 Hakodate Sprint Stakes over the same distance. He took on the Sprinters Stakes in the fall, where interference factored in his 13th-place finish, but later, he was also found to have suffered a fracture. Diatonic returned 11 months later in the Grade 3 Keeneland Cup, before taking another four months off. He returned to the track in January this year and captured the Grade 3 Hankyu Hai in February. Trainer Takayuki Yasuda, who also trained Lord Kanaloa, is cautiously optimistic, saying the 7-year-old has improved from his last start. “I think 1,200-meter is his best distance. This time it’s a Grade 1 and the competition is stronger, so we’ll be going in as a challenger. I want him to get a good start.”
Gendarme: With six wins from his 27 starts, the American-bred Gendarme heads into his sixth Grade 1 at the age of 7. Though he has yet to bag a big one, he did come close in the 2,000-meter Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes as a 2-year-old. His trainer Yasutoshi Ikee has gradually shortened his distance, and from his last six starts over the past year (all at 1,200 meters), Gendarme has scored two wins, his latest in the Grade 3 Ocean Stakes early this month at Nakayama.
Naran Huleg: A 6-year-old son of dirt champion Gold Allure, Naran Huleg has been highly reliable since last fall. He didn’t miss the Top 3 in his last four starts including two Grade 3 events. He has yet to win a graded-stakes race, but he’s gotten closer and is back at his best trip, a left-handed 1,200 meters race over turf.
Travesura: A surprise fourth as the 16th pick in last year’s Takamatsunomiya Kinen, Travesura has had only two starts since, but finished second in both races over 1,400 meters - including last out in the Grade 3 Ocean Stakes. It is definitely a longshot, but if he could pull off a win this time out, it would be not only his first Grade 1 victory, but also the first for both trainer Yasuyuki Takahashi and expected jockey Katsuma Samejima.
Lotus Land: Also deserving mention is the American-bred 5-year-old mare Lotus Land. Proven consistent over 1,600-1,800 meters with six wins and three seconds from her 13 starts, she returned from three months layoff after the Mile Championship, and managed to top the Grade 3 Kyoto Himba Stakes last month in her first trip over 1,400 meters. She is looking light on her feet in work and in good shape for her first trip over 1,200 meters.
Comments credit: Keiba Book