Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) (G1) - Preview
Hanshin Racecourse hosts the top-level action again this week, with the all-female Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas), on Sunday, April 10. Twenty-two 3-year-old fillies have been nominated for the 18 spots in the Oka Sho gate and six of them are tied for earnings. A lottery will determine which two gain the last two berths in the 82nd running of the race, for their shot at a piece of the action - a purse of nearly JPY282 million, with JPY130 million for the winner.
The field is heady with talent, with the top finishers in the 2-year-old filly Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies meeting the up-and-coming talent from the Oka Sho trials along with promising challengers rising from the lower ranks to their first graded event.
The Oka Sho, which translates as “Cherry Blossom Prize,” is the first Classic race of the year and the first of the races that make up the Fillies' Triple Crown. The distance (1,600 meters) is the shortest of the three, and it will be followed by the 2,400-meter Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) at Tokyo next month, and the final Triple Crown competition, the Shuka Sho over 2,000 meters at Hanshin in October.
The race is run over the outer Hanshin course and starts about center backstretch with 444 meters to the first bend. The turns are sweeping and there is a slight downhill slope. The straight is 473 meters long and has an upward hill rising 1.8 meters from the 200-meter mark until 80 meters before the finish line.
The Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) is the 11th race on Hanshin’s Sunday card of 12. Post time is 15:40 local time. All runners will carry 55kg.
Sodashi is the current Oka Sho record-holder, with her winning time of 1 minutes, 31.1 seconds last year.
Here is a look at the expected top picks.
Namur: The Harbinger filly Namur has three wins from four starts, all at the mile, and has recorded the field’s best final three-furlong time in her last three starts. Her only loss was as the favorite in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies in December, where she finished fourth. She was a bit slow at the break and encountered interference under way. Nonetheless, Namur finished only a length and a neck (a mere 0.2 seconds) off winner Circle of Life. She returned in March for the Grade 2 Tulip Sho. With a new partner (jockey Takeshi Yokoyama), she was able to break well and race midfield in the race. Despite having to switch to the outside in the stretch, she topped the field by more than a length and a half. Trainer Tomokazu Takano noted her improvement in the gate. “I think she has pretty much fixed her form and only rose up in front a bit.” Takano, who has 18 graded-stakes wins (12 of them from females, which included Lei Papale and Shonan Pandora), is looking to bag his first Classic. The Northern Farm-bred Namur, who is a slight filly weighing in at only 430kg and has had a different rider in each of her four starts, is expected to see Takeshi Yokoyama up again this time. She is showing great improvement in morning work, and last week she recorded a personal best of 51.4 seconds over four furlongs up the Ritto hill course.
Circle of Life: Having claimed the Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies last year, the award for 2021 JRA Best 2-Year-Old Filly was given to the Epiphaneia-sired Circle of Life. She had bagged her first graded-stakes in her third outing with the Grade 3 Artemis Stakes, then the Grade 1, and posted a third in the Grade 2 Tulip Sho last out, putting her score at three wins and two thirds from five starts, with all of her wins over the mile. Usually racing from midfield or further back, she was sent forward to travel in fourth position under jockey Mirco Demuro last out. The more forward position may have been a factor in her loss, but she held her ground to finish a strong third, finishing only 0.2 seconds off the winner. “She was a bit more high-strung than usual in this last race, but now that she’s let off some gas, if she can get a nice smooth trip and make the most of her late speed, I think she has a chance to revenge the loss,” trainer Sakae Kunieda said.
Lovely Your Eyes: A first-crop daughter of Logotype, Lovely Your Eyes goes directly to her second top-level bid from the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies, where she finished in second place. After acing her debut and second start, she ran third in the Grade 2 Keio Hai Nisai Stakes over 1,400 meters at Tokyo, then went to the Grade 1, where she crossed the line half a length behind Circle of Life. Four starts in from her debut, and previously raced over 1,200-1,500 meters, the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies was her longest trip by half a furlong. This time it will be her longest period between races, however, Trainer Yoichi Kuroiwa expresses no concern. “She is refreshed now, both mentally and physically and has matured quite a bit. The jockey (Ryusei Sakai) rode her last week and liked what he felt. She is looking good. I think her weight will be up from her last start,” the trainer commented.
Water Navillera: Third-place finisher in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies, Water Navillera also returned in the Tulip Sho as her first start of the year. She finished fifth in the race, 0.4 seconds behind the winner, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Water Navillera displayed excellent racing sense and, despite difficulty getting a clear run in the stretch, she remained unfazed through the traffic, held on with determination, and gained ground all the way to the line. Water Navillera is fielded by the Ritto-based trainer Koshiro Take, who is gunning for his first Grade 1 win as trainer. His older brother Yutaka, who holds the record for most Oka Sho wins at five and has ridden three of the filly’s previous races, is pegged for the ride.
Presage Lift: Presage Lift is one of three fillies heading into the Oka Sho with only two previous starts. She won both of them, both over 1,600 meters. The Northern Farm-bred daughter of Harbinger jumped from her debut to the graded-stakes level and, despite a late break and the nearly four months between starts, rocketed up from the rear to capture the Grade 3 Queen Cup over 1,600 meters in February, a neck ahead of Stars on Earth. Trained by Miho-based Tetsuya Kimura, Presage Lift has yet to race far from home, will be racing to the right for the first time, and will be carrying 1kg more than she has before. “Since coming back to the stable, she has some problem taking the bit on the right, which concerns me,” assistant trainer Yu Ota said. “Additionally, she doesn’t have the weight as she did for last start. I don’t think she’ll lose her weight much during the trip to the track, but we’ll just have to try it and see.”
Others to watch are:
From her debut, Pin High took on the Grade 2 Tulip Sho, ran second to Namur, and secured her berth in the Oka Sho. Though she did have the inside gate advantage last out, she showed mental toughness by splitting the ranks to get a clear run.