Hanshin Juvenile Fillies (G1) - Preview
While 14 of Japan’s tried and true racers take on Sha Tin in the biggest Japan team to the Hong Kong International Races yet on Sunday, back home the spotlight is focused on the up-and-coming talent, more specifically the most promising 2-year-old fillies in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies.
The 74th running of the Grade 1 turf event over 1,600 meters at the western Japan Hanshin venue has attracted 29 nominations for a full field of 18. Many of the nominees have raced only once or twice in their short careers and only five of the 29 - Kita Wing, Dura, Bouton d’Or, Ravel and Rivara - have captured a graded stakes race on their road to the 2-year-olds’ heights.
In fact, only 15 of the nominees have secured a berth in the race. The remaining 14, tied with a mere 4 million yen each in earnings, will have to vie for the race’s final three spots and a chance at the winner’s prize of 65 million yen. Although the search for the top finishers will focus on those who have already proven their mettle, the history books reveal some who went on to stardom despite having to rely on luck to get them to the gate here. Two are the iconic Vodka (winner in 2006) and Buena Vista (winner in 2008).
Half of the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies winners over the past decade have gone to the winner’s circle unbeaten and, of this year’s nominees, three hopefuls - Umbrail, Moryana and Ravel - are unbeaten at two wins apiece. Five of the 14 who must first make the cut to be able to race have one win each from one start.
The race is not known for huge upsets, though only four favorites have won in the past 10 years, with the favorite figuring in the top three only one other time in the same time period. Double-digit choices have not won in the past decade but have made the money three times in the last 10 runnings. The top three finishers tend to come from the top five choices on the day.
The Hanshin Juvenile Fillies begins in the backstretch, with an upward slope just before the first turn, about 450 meters from the starting gate. With 600 meters to go, the track dips over the next 400 meters and rises again over half a furlong before it levels out with another half furlong to the finish line.
The Hanshin Juvenile Fillies, with a 15:40 post time, is the No. 11 race on Hanshin’s Sunday card of 12. All fillies will carry 54 kg.
Here’s a look at some of the likely top choices:
Ravel: Unbeaten in her two starts to date, the Kitasan Black-sired Ravel began her racing career at Kokura over 1,800 meters. The Ritto-based Yoshito Yahagi then sent her to Tokyo, where she captured the Artemis Stakes (Grade 3, 1,600) at the end of October. Ravel is capable of a lightning-fast turn of foot. Despite a slow break and a rear position in the Artemis Stakes, she was able to rocket to the head of the field (33.0 seconds over the final 3 furlongs, including an 11-second lap) and clinch the race. She should enjoy the Hanshin stretch as well and perhaps succeed in restoring faith to the fans after half-sister Namur, nominated the favorite in both the 2021 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies and this year’s Grade 1 Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas), disappointed with a fourth and 10th, respectively.
Liberty Island: The Duramente-sired Liberty Island aced her debut over the mile at Niigata Racecourse with a stupendous late kick that saw her fly over the final 3 furlongs in 31.4 seconds. Next out, she took on the Artemis Stakes and finished second to Ravel by a neck, the difference in distance most likely incurred when rider Yuga Kawada had to move her to the outside in her final drive. Although not as long as Tokyo, the Hanshin stretch will also be welcome. Liberty Island hails from the stable of Mitsumasa Nakauchida, who just scooped the Mile Championship with Serifos. In fact, Nakauchida has captured four JRA Grade 1s, all over them over the Hanshin mile, including the 2018 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies with Danon Fantasy in 2018.
Dura: Dura has had three starts over nine furlongs, all at Sapporo, and will be dropping down in distance for the first time. Also by Duramente, Dura broke her maiden on her second start and leapt from there to a stunning win of the Grade 3 Sapporo Nisai Stakes. She broke sharply, raced perfectly in sync with rider Arata Saito and then turned in the field’s fastest time over the final 3 furlongs. The lugging out she had displayed in the race before was also much less pronounced. Now back at her home base at Ritto, she will be racing for the first time in more than three months and looking to follow her Sapporo Nisai Stakes win with her first Grade 1 victory, as Red Reveur did in 2013 and Sodashi in 2020.
Moryana: One of four Epiphaneia-sired fillies nominated for the race, the unbeaten Moryana won her debut over 1,600 meters at Tokyo with a final-3-furlong time of 33.0 seconds and a winning margin of three lengths. She then went on to clinch the Cosmo Sho, an open-class race over the Sapporo 1,800 meters. Moryana will be returning to the track for the first time since mid-August and, based at the Miho barn of Yoshinori Muto, will also need to remain calm and weather the trip to Hanshin well. If she succeeds, her big stride and eagerness to run are expected to work in her favor at Hanshin in her second start over the mile.
Umbrail: Another unbeaten filly on a two-start winning streak is the Lord Kanaloa-sired Umbrail. She too has only risen to the open-class level and will have an extra furlong to conquer. Although based at Miho with Tetsuya Kimura, she is familiar with Hanshin, having won the Momiji Stakes there in mid-October. Although she lacks the lightning kick of others, she displays excellent form under way and a keen racing sense, and should welcome the extra ground. Umbrail is a full brother to Stelvio, who was runnerup in the 2017 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes and went on to win the Grade 1 Mile Championship the following year as a 3-year-old.
Kita Wing: Kita Wing will also be racing for the first time in three months, after capturing the Grade 3 Niigata Nisai Stakes on Aug. 28. It was the second victory in a row for the Danon Ballade filly (both over 1,600 meters) and followed a fourth-place finish over the Fukushima 1,200 meters. This will be her first start at Hanshin, and as she is stabled in the east with Shigeyuki Kojima, she will also have the long trip west. Over the past decade, three others have gone directly to the Hanshin Fillies from the Niigata Nisai Stakes, with resulting second, fifth and fourth-place finishes.
Others to watch:
Like Dura, the Ritto-based Doe Eyes has had three starts, all over 1,800 meters, all at Sapporo, with a win and two seconds. She topped Dura in her debut and the two met again last out in the Grade 2 Sapporo Nisai Stakes, where Doe Eyes finished second to Dura. New equipment in the form of a noseband has seen improved form around turns. Not flummoxed by big fields, she has good racing sense and is looking in good shape. The front-running Santee Tesoro has yet to prove herself in graded-stakes competition, but in her two wins over the Nakayama mile, she displayed a burst of late speed that put her five and three lengths, respectively, ahead of the others. Last week she clocked a personal best at her Miho base and is looking in fine shape. Rivara has two wins and a third over 6-7 furlongs, including a surprise wire-to-wire win as 10th pick in the Grade 3 Fantasy Stakes on Nov. 5. Able to sustain 11-second lap times, key will be whether she can keep it over one furlong more. Second to Rivara in the Fantasy Stakes was Bouton d’Or, who claimed the Grade 3 Hakodate Nisai Stakes in her previous start. She too has yet to experience longer than seven furlongs, but her ability to race from any position coupled with a blistering late kick could help her conquer the mile.