Osaka Hai (G1) - Preview
This coming Sunday (April 3) sees the second big race in a consecutive run of four Grade 1s in Japan this spring, when the Osaka Hai will be run at Hanshin Racecourse, the first top-level race of the year at the Kansai track. The race is for 4-year-olds and up, and there will be a maximum field of 16 runners from the 18 nominations for the 2,000 meters contest, run over the inner turf course. Horses are set to carry 57kg, with a 2kg allowance for fillies and mares. A few horses among the entries will be having their first run of the year in the middle-distance race, in a bid to further their careers in 2022, and among those, Efforia will certainly be the center of attention.
The first Osaka Hai was staged in 1957, when it was a handicap run over 1,800 meters. It was previously known as the Sankei Osaka Hai. In 1972, the distance was changed to 2,000 meters, and in 1984 it became a Grade 2 race. It was open to international runners in 2003, and as recently as 2017, it achieved Grade 1 status.
In the last ten years, only three first favorites in the race have rewarded their supporters, and the last one to win was Suave Richard back in 2018. Last year, Contrail was a heavy favorite to win the race, but could only manage third behind the filly Lei Papale. Also in the past decade, 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds have shared the spoils, taking out the race five times apiece. Record time for the Osaka Hai is held by Hiruno d’Amour, who won in a time of 1 minute 57.8 seconds in 2011. There’s JPY200 million (in the region of USD2 million) prize money going to the winner this year. A couple of races leading into this week’s big race have been the Grade 2 American Jockey Club Cup, run over 2,200 meters at Nakayama in January, and the Grade 2 Kinko Sho, run over 2,000 meters at Chukyo in March.
Here’s a look at some of the runners expected to take on the race:
Efforia: All eyes will be on the 2021 JRA Horse of the Year and Best Three-Year-Old Colt, as he steps out for the first time as a 4-year-old. With three Grade 1s to his name last year, and such an unlucky second in the Grade1 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby), the key will be for him to continue in the same impressive way as his performances as a 3-year-old. He seems the type that will only get stronger, and word from the stable is that everything’s going smoothly with him. “He came back to the stable from Northern Farm Tenei on March 4, and his weight was around 530kg. This has given us some leeway with his training, and while last time he did have a slight hoof issue, this isn’t a problem now. He has been running with a good rhythm and all’s well with him so far,” trainer Yuichi Shikato commented. Efforia will have to be at his best in a race where overwhelming favorites have sometimes had a hard time.
Lei Papale: An impressive winner of the race last year, the 5-year-old mare by Deep Impact tuned up for another try this year, when finishing second last time in the Grade 2 Kinko Sho over 2,000 meters at Chukyo early in March. She was sixth in the Grade 1 Hong Kong Cup two starts ago on her trip overseas, but lost little in defeat in that race. “I was quite pleased with her run in Hong Kong. Last time out in the Kinko Sho, it seemed like she had matured quite a bit as she headed into that race. The horses on the inside got a good start in going forward, but she soon got into a good rhythm. The jockey did well with her, so when she was able to finish second, I could take a lot from that race,” trainer Tomokazu Takano said.
Jack d’Or: The 4-year-old colt by Maurice is seemingly getting better with every race, and that could be seen last time when he started favorite and ran out an easy winner of the Grade 2 Kinko Sho. He has now won his last five races, and has led all the way in four of them. Trainer Kenichi Fujioka also thinks the horse has shown a lot of improvement. “I have always felt he was a horse with ability, but at the time of the Principal Stakes he was a bit weak and didn’t really show his best. After he returned from a break, he started to improve, and it’s been particularly noticeable since last autumn,” said the trainer recently. Fujioka has just two JRA Grade 1 wins since getting his license in 2001, and really deserves more at the highest level.
Akai Ito: Last year’s Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup winner has a 50% first three strike rate, and since her big win last year, she has finished 7th and 3rd in two races, the latest being the Grade 2 Kinko Sho at Chukyo in March. Assistant trainer Masaaki Shibata said, “She was returning from a spell last time, but it was a good prep race for this next one. In her last race, things were a bit different, in that she took up a more forward position in the run, and it showed us that she can be quite flexible in the way she runs, and that she’s developed more mentally.” Jockey Hideaki Miyuki has struck up a good partnership with the horse, and looks set to take the ride once more.
King of Koji: The 6-year-old by Lord Kanaloa is by no means an easy horse to train, but things came right for him last time when he won the Grade 2 American Jockey Club Cup over 2,200 meters at Nakayama in January. He now has two Grade 2 victories to his name, and despite a mixed record at Hanshin, he certainly can’t be overlooked. “Last time was his third race back after an injury, but his breathing was fine, and it was a good performance overall. He can be temperamental, and his behavior at the gate can be of some concern, but last time these things were not a problem,” trainer Shogo Yasuda said.
Potager: Trainer Yasuo Tomomichi looks like being well represented in the Osaka Hai, and he’s a master of getting a horse just right for a big race. This 5-year-old by Deep Impact finished sixth to Efforia in last year’s Grade 1 Tenno Sho (Autumn), and warmed up for his run here in the Grade 2 Kinko Sho last time. The trainer stated: “The winner of the Kinko Sho is a strong horse, and the horses that finished second and third are both Grade 1 winners. Potager did well to come from the back at the end of the race, but the winner couldn’t be stopped. My horse is always genuine and gives it his best.”
African Gold: The 7-year-old by Stay Gold proved that he’s still a force to be reckoned with after his runaway win in the Grade 2 Kyoto Kinen over 2,200 meters at Hanshin in February, taking many by surprise with his odds at over 50/1. Bred at Darley Japan KK, he’s fully entitled to have a go at this race with his win last time, his first victory since 2019. “He went straight to the front in his last run and found a good rhythm, and with his last five furlongs run in 57.5 seconds, the other horses weren’t able to catch up from behind. He has had a short break at the farm, and has come back to the stable with this race as his target,” trainer Masato Nishizono said.