Mile Championship (G1) - Preview
This Sunday’s Grade 1 event, the Mile Championship, is the top mile race of the fall. The race is known for being pretty straightforward. No double-digit picks have finished in the Top 3 over the last decade and the favorite has won for the last two years. The race has been held at Hanshin Racecourse instead of its usual venue Kyoto for the past two years, as it will be this year for the 39th running, on Nov. 20.
This time the race attracted 17 nominees, with their ages ranging from three years old to a racing rarity of ten years old. They include the three-time Grade 1 winner Sodashi and four others with one Grade 1 victory each to his name - Salios, Schnell Meister, Danon the Kid and Danon Scorpion. There is a handful of very strong candidates for the top spot and its prize of JPY180 million.
After the Grade 1 NHK Mile Cup and Yasuda Kinen, important prep races along the way to the Mile Championship are the Grade 3 Keisei Hai Autumn Handicap and three Grade 2 races, the Mainichi Okan, the Fuji Stakes, and the Swan Stakes.
The Mile Championship is run to the right over the Hanshin outer course, the usual venue for two Grade 1 filly events - the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies and the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas). The gate is placed about a third of the way down the backstretch and the early pace is usually relaxed. The horses pick up speed as the track dips around the final bend and turns into the homestraight, with about 474 meters to the finish line. The ground rises from about 200 meters out adding another test of stamina.
Four years old and up will carry 57kg, while three-year-olds get 1kg less and fillies and mares carry 2kg less. The Mile Championship is the 11th race on the Sunday card of 12 at Hanshin, with a post time locally of 15:40.
Here’s a look at some of the runners expected to be in the line-up:
Schnell Meister: A 4-year-old son of Kingman, the German-bred Schnell Meister was runner-up here last year and only 3/4 length behind winner Gran Alegria. Schnell Meister has been largely consistent throughout his career. He missed the Top 3 only on two occasions, and those were exceptions themselves - an eighth-place finish in his first overseas excursion, the Grade 1 Dubai Turf, and a ninth in the Grade 1 Sprinters Stakes last out. Not only it was the first sprint race in his career, but he encountered interference in the homestretch, yet his time was only 0.5 seconds off the winner. In between those two races was the Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen, where Schnell Meister finished a neck behind winner Songline. Based at the Miho Training Center, this will be only his second time at Hanshin, but it may be time for his first win of the year and second Grade 1 victory. Jockey Christophe Lemaire, who won this race for the past two years with Gran Alegria, is expected up.
Salios: This will be the third Mile Championship in a row for Salios, who posted a 5-6 in his previous tries. Last year’s Mile Championship was followed by a third in the Grade 1 Hong Kong Mile at Sha Tin, and his first start of the new year was an unusual appearance in a sprint, the Grade 1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen, which saw him bog down in the heavy ground and end in 15th-place. Back on familiar turf for the Yasuda Kinen, he finished third but a head and neck behind the winner under Damian Lane. This year, jockey Ryan Moore will be in the saddle. Salios is fresh off a win in the Grade 2 Mainichi Okan, which was his first win in two years and also is a race he won going into the Mile Championship in 2020. Last year, he went straight to the Mile Championship from the Yasuda Kinen, a break of five months. Being prepped enough, Salios may be set to reach the top once again.
Sodashi: The stunning pure-white Sodashi, a 4-year-old daughter of Kurofune, has three wins in mile Grade 1 races. This year, her four starts have not only ranged in distance from 1,600-2,000 meters, but they also included the dirt Grade 1 February Stakes. She rose to the challenge in all, with one win and two seconds including her win in the Grade 1 Victoria Mile over 1,600 meters at Tokyo. Following a fifth in the Grade2 Sapporo Kinen over 2,000 meters at Sapporo in August, she finished a head behind the winner Izu Jo no Kiseki in the Fuchu Himba Stakes last out. A return to the Hanshin 1,600 meters, where she captured two Grade 1s - the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies and the Oka Sho- may well see her pocket her fourth Grade 1 victory.
Serifos: A three-year-old by Daiwa Major, Serifos is a mile specialist with all his seven starts thus far have the distance on turf. He went to the Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes on a three-race winning streak (including two graded stakes) from his debut, finished second to Do Deuce. After that, he diverged from the traditional road to the Classics. Next up was a fourth-place finish amid peers in the NHK Mile Cup, followed by another fourth in the Yasuda Kinen. Back after four months, he aced the Grade 2 Fuji Stakes over 1,600 meters at Tokyo in October. This time, with new partner Damian Lane expected up, Serifos may be able to pull off his first big win. If he can, he’ll become the first three-year-old in four years to win the Mile Championship.
Soul Rush: Finished second by a neck behind Serifos in the Fuji Stakes was Soul Rush, a Rulership 4-year-old. After winning his debut, it took him six more tries before he made the winner’s circle again, then he won three races straight and leapt to the Grade 2 Yomiuri Milers Cup this spring. He captured that as well and dared to take on the Yasuda Kinen, where he finished 13th. Back on the track four months later, the Yasutoshi Ikee-trained colt was up and running with his strong showing in the Fuji Stakes and ready to prove his mettle with some of the best.
Danon Scorpion: One of two horses fielded by trainer Takayuki Yasuda is the three-year-old Danon Scorpion, who has four wins and two thirds from his only seven starts so far. After third in the two-year-old Grade 1 Asahi Futurity Stakes over 1,600 meters at Hanshin, the Lord Kanaloa-sired colt went on to capture the NHK Mile Cup. Returning after five months in the Fuji Stakes, he finished third, topped by Serifos and Soul Rush. He is showing improvement and clocked a personal best up the hill course last week.
Others of interest are:
Justin Cafe, who has yet to win a graded-stakes race, takes on his first Grade 1. After four months off, though he broke sluggishly in the Mainichi Okan last out, he managed to finish in second half a length behind winner Salios. He won over the course in March of this year. Jockey Yuichi Fukunaga has notched four thirds and five seconds in the 22 times he has taken on the Mile Championship, he is still gunning for his first win.