Sprinters Stakes (G1) - Preview
T M Spada
The much-anticipated return of Grade 1 action in Japan happens this coming Sunday (October 2), when the Sprinters Stakes kicks off the latter part of the year and the string of big races from now on. This Sunday’s race is the second of just two sprints during the year run at the highest level in JRA racing, the other being the Takamatsunomiya Kinen at Chukyo in March. The Grade 1 Sprinters Stakes will be run at its usual venue this time, Nakayama Racecourse, located in Chiba prefecture, just outside Tokyo. It is run over 1,200 meters on the outer turf course at the track, and is a race for 3-year-olds and up.
First run in 1967, the race has over the years attained higher status, beginning with its Grade 2 ranking in 1987. Shortly after, in 1990, it became a Grade 1, and in 1994 it was recognized as an international Grade 1 race, one of the first JRA races to be given the title.
There are 20 nominations for this Sunday’s big race, and that excludes the three early nominations from overseas runners that won’t be traveling to Japan for the race. Weights are set at 57kg for 4-year-olds and up, with a 2kg allowance for fillies and mares, and the same weight allowance is also given to 3-year-olds. Pixie Knight won for the 3-year-old generation last year, and became the first one to do so since 2007. First favorites have won five times in the past decade, with Gran Alegria the last one to win in 2020. Prize money to the winner this year is JPY170 million (in the region of USD1.5 million), and a total of JPY368 million in prize money is paid down to tenth place. Record time for the race is held by Lord Kanaloa, who won in a time of 1 minute, 6.7 seconds in 2012.
A couple of races leading up to this week’s big sprint have been the Grade 3 TV Nishinippon Corp. Sho Kitakyushu Kinen, run at Kokura in August, and the Grade 3 Keeneland Cup, run at Sapporo, also in August. The most recognized trial race is the Grade 2 Sankei Sho Centaur Stakes, which was at Chukyo over 1,200 meters in September. Tower of London was the last horse to follow up a win in the Centaur Stakes with a victory in the Sprinters Stakes in 2019.
The 56th running of the Sprinters Stakes will be Race 11 on this Sunday’s card at Nakayama, with a post time in Japan of 15:40. Final declarations and the barrier draw will be available later in the week.
Here is a look at some of the contenders for the race:
Meikei Yell: The 4-year-old filly by Mikki Isle has a bit of a mind of her own, and that can be seen from her seven wins from twelve starts, and five times unplaced in her other races. That was certainly not the case in her most recent run, where she set a record time of 1 minute, 6.2 seconds to win the Grade 2 Sankei Sho Centaur Stakes at Chukyo over 1,200 meters. Assistant trainer Kaname Ogino reports her to be fine after that race: “Everything went to plan in her last race, and the jockey got the best out of her. She has returned to training again and seems relaxed, which is a good thing. There doesn’t seem to be any change in her condition.” Meikei Yell finished fourth in last year’s Sprinters Stakes, and trainer Hidenori Take will be hoping she can better that and give him his first JRA Grade 1 victory.
Schnell Meister: The German-bred colt won the Grade 1 NHK Mile Cup last year as a 3-year-old, and his eighth-place finish in Dubai this year was the only time he’s finished outside the first three. The big key this time will be the distance, as it’s his first time to run over 1,200 meters. Trainer Takahisa Tezuka said: “His condition wasn’t so good after Dubai, even though he did manage to finish second in the Yasuda Kinen. After his usual summer break at Northern Farm Tenei, he returned to the stable early in September. He looks his usual self, if not a little bigger, but has moved well enough in recent work.”
Naran Huleg: Bidding to become the sixth horse in history to win both the Grade1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen and the Grade 1 Sprinters Stakes in the same year, 6-year-old Naran Huleg was last seen running in the Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen in June, when finishing ninth. Trainer Yoshitada Munakata commented: “He recently worked with stablemate Lagulf and was able to chase after him very well. He has improved these last couple of weeks, bearing in mind his last run was in the Yasuda Kinen, where the distance was too long for him. His weight remains around 510kg.” The 6-year-old’s astonishing run from the final corner in the big sprint in March is always worth another look.
Namura Clair: Forming part of the 3-year-old challenge, Namura Clair gets to run off the 53kg mark here, and has done very little wrong in her nine career races so far. She finished third in this year’s Grade 1 Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas), won the Grade 3 Hakodate Sprint in June, and finished third most recently in the Grade 3 Kitakyushu Kinen at Kokura in August. Trainer Kodai Hasegawa is pleased with her. “She has had a break at the farm with this race in mind. She has recovered well, and has been able to handle her training workload since. It has also been good to have had some time between races,” the trainer said recently.
Taisei Vision: The 5-year-old by Turtle Bowl was a wise purchase at the 2017 Select Sale, and has amassed more than ten times his selling price in prize money. He has taken on four Grade 1 races in his career, and his best finish was second in the 2019 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes. More recently, he’s achieved three seconds in a row from his last three starts. Assistant trainer Yosuke Kinoshita said: “The jockey did well in getting a run up the inside last time, and the horse kept up the momentum until the finish. We sent him to the farm after that and he’s come back looking well. I think he’ll be better suited to the Nakayama track, as opposed to Kokura.”
Win Marvel: With a strong North American pedigree, the 3-year-old colt by I’ll Have Another won a Grade 3 sprint two starts ago at Chukyo, and finished second in his latest race, the Grade 3 Keeneland Cup over 1,200 meters at Sapporo in August. Trainer Masashi Fukayama said: “He has recovered from his last race in Sapporo, when he did lose some weight, but now his appetite's good and he’s regained his condition. In training, he’s not one to show so much, but we’re steadily building on his workouts before this next race.”
T M Spada: Mostly blessed with light weights in her races, the 3-year-old filly by Red Spada will only have to carry 53kg here, although that’s 5kg more than when she blew the opposition away in the Grade 3 CBC Sho over 1,200 meters at Kokura in July, winning in a record time of 1 minute, 5.8 seconds. She has since finished seventh in another Grade 3 sprint at Kokura in August. Assistant trainer Kazuma Tateyama commented on the filly: “Compared to her run in the CBC Sho, the ground and weight she had to carry were different last time. The draw also meant that she had to go forward, but she still did her best. After that race, she had a couple of weeks at the farm to refresh.” Trainer Tadao Igarashi won his only JRA Grade 1 race with T M Precure in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies back in 2005, so he’ll be hoping his speedy filly can end the drought here.Eighteen Girl: The 6-year-old mare has never won above Grade 3 level, and in her two runs in the Sprinters Stakes, she finished eleventh in 2020 and thirteenth in 2021. It is all about her getting a finish in, and it remains a bit of a mystery as to why sometimes she does finish well, but at other times she doesn’t. Trainer Yuji Iida explained why last time things didn’t go her way. “It was a slow opening three furlongs last time and it didn’t suit her, but she did run on well at the end. She seems a bit lighter on her feet than she was before that last race, so I hope she’ll show her strength more this time.”