Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger) (G1) - Preview
The final Classic of the year will be run this coming Sunday (October 23) at Hanshin Racecourse, following on from the fillies last week. The Grade 1 Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger) is a real stamina test run over 3,000 meters on turf, although the Hanshin track might be just a little easier than Kyoto, which is where the race is usually run.
First run in 1938, the race is best known as the final leg of the Triple Crown for 3-year-old colts, and there have just been eight horses in Japanese racing history to achieve a clean sweep of all three races, which include the Grade 1 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) and the Grade 1 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby). The last horse to do so was Contrail in 2020, while Japan’s first ever Triple Crown winner was St. Lite in 1941.
There are 23 nominations (including one filly) for the race on Sunday, and a maximum of 18 will get a start. The two winners of the first two legs of this year’s Triple Crown races are not among the nominations: Geoglyph is expected to run in the Grade 1 Autumn Tenno Sho, while Do Deuce’s next race will be the Grade 1 Japan Cup. It therefore means another horse has a chance to boost his career.
Two official trial races for the Grade 1 Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger) have been the Grade 2 Asahi Hai St. Lite Kinen, run over 2,200 meters at Nakayama in September, as well as the Grade 2 Kobe Shimbun Hai, also run in September over 2,200 meters at Chukyo. In the last 10 years, five first favorites have won the final colts’ Classic of the year, the last one being Contrail in 2020. Record time for the race is held by Toho Jackal, who won in a time of 3 minutes, 1.0 seconds in 2014. This year’s winner’s check is JPY150 million (around USD1.3 million).
The 83rd Grade 1 Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger) will be Race 11 on the Hanshin card this Sunday, with a post time in Japan of 15:40. Final declarations and the barrier draw will come out later in the week.
Here is a look at some of the runners expected to take on the race:
Gaia Force: The improving colt by Kitasan Black will probably have to improve again if he is to win this Sunday, but every time he’s been asked the question, he’s produced the goods. He just held on to win the Grade 2 Asahi Hai St. Lite Kinen last time, but in doing so he got top marks from his trainer, Haruki Sugiyama. “After winning in record time at Kokura, the switch to Nakayama with the extra distance and strong opposition was never going to be easy, but he ran above my expectations. We gave him a break at the farm afterwards, as it must have taken a lot out of him, but he seems fine on his return to the stable,” Sugiyama said recently. Jockey Kohei Matsuyama has ridden Gaia Force in all his races, and will partner him again in his bid for more riding honors.
Justin Palace: By far the most impressive winner of the trial races, the Northern Farm bred colt by Deep Impact took out the Grade 2 Kobe Shimbun Hai with some style just recently. He is also trained by Haruki Sugiyama, and the trainer commented on his other big chance in the race: “They did a good job with him at the farm before the Kobe Shimbun Hai. The jockey also had some good contact with the horse before the race. In his last run, he easily got into a good position, and getting a good start does seem to be one of the keys with him.” Justin Palace cost JPY209 million at the 2020 Select Sale, but he’s now three wins from six starts, and beginning to reward his owner Masahiro Miki.
Ask Victor More: Another colt by Deep Impact, Ask Victor More finished third in this year’s Grade1 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby), and just got touched off last time by Gaia Force at Nakayama in the Grade 2 St. Lite Kinen in September. Trainer Yasuhito Tamura is not discouraged at all: “He ran his usual good race last time, even though he couldn’t quite manage to win. With just four weeks between races, we’ve kept him at the stable, but everything’s gone smoothly as this next race approaches,” Tamura said. Ask Victor More’s regular jockey, Hironobu Tanabe, will be in the saddle again, looking for his first JRA Grade 1 victory outside of Tokyo, where he has two top-level wins to his name, the latest being Logotype in 2016.
Boldog Hos: It is three wins from eight starts for the colt by Screen Hero, and he hasn’t been far off the mark in all his recent races, including his last start, when he finished well to take third in the Grade 2 Kobe Shimbun Hai. He is trained by Hiroshi Miyamoto, and he’s pleased with the colt’s condition. “He hasn’t needed any big adjustment with his last race being not long ago, and having had a race, he seems better for it. He has plenty of stamina on his side too,” Miyamoto said.
Feengrotten: Stablemate to Boldog Hos, Feengrotten is a half-brother to Pixie Knight, and has progressed to Grade 3 races in quite a short time. In his latest race, he finished third in the Grade 3 Niigata Kinen over 2,000 meters in September. The trainer stated: “He tended to get outrun in his races before, but now he’s a lot stronger, and fitting blinkers has had a good effect on him. He is also getting better mentally too.”
Pradaria: The Deep Impact colt finished fifth in this year’s Grade 1 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby), and is still a work in progress. He disappointed in his last race when he could only finish eighth to Justin Palace, which was his worst result ever, but trainer Manabu Ikezoe continues to try and get the best out of the horse. “He has been working uphill recently, and this seems to improve his condition. About a week before his last race, he trained on the woodchip course, but he wasn’t moving so well. Compared to then, he seems to be in better shape,” Ikezoe commented. It is a family affair with jockey Kenichi Ikezoe set to ride Pradaria again, as he has done in all the colt’s races.
Verona City: The Epiphaneia colt has been a little unlucky, with three seconds from his eight career starts, and he’s coming off a fifth-place finish in the Grade 2 Kobe Shimbun Hai. Jockey Yuga Kawada has been booked for the ride, and trainer Shozo Sasaki is hoping the horse can find just a bit more in this next race. “He wasn’t quite able to finish off as strongly as I’d have hoped last time, but it was his first race in a while. Things have been fine with him since we decided his next race would be the Kikuka Sho,” the trainer commented.Yamanin Zest: Trainer Teruhiko Chida will be hoping the colt by Symboli Kris S can give him his first JRA Grade 1 victory. Yamanin Zest lived up to his name last time, when he took a big step up in class and chased home Justin Palace in the Grade 2 Kobe Shimbun Hai in September. Comments from the stable were: “He had a nice ground-saving run last time, and even in the homestraight, he stayed on nicely along the inside to get a good result. He has developed a lot over the summer.” Jockey Yutaka Take is looking for his sixth win in the race, with his win on Super Creek back in 1988 being his first ever JRA Grade 1 win, and connections have booked him for Yamanin Zest once more.