Osaka Hai (G1) - Preview
Stars on Earth
There are consecutive weeks of Grade 1 races in Japan from now on, and this coming Sunday (April 2) sees the Osaka Hai set to be run at Hanshin Racecourse, just one week before the Grade 1 Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas).
The first top-level race of the year for the older middle-distance horses, the Grade 1 Osaka Hai is for 4-year-olds and up and is run over 2,000 meters on the inner turf track at Hanshin. It was first run in 1957 when it was a handicap, and run over 1,800 meters. Previously known as the Sankei Osaka Hai, the distance was changed to 2,000 meters in 1972 and it became a Grade 2 in 1984. It became an international race in 2003 and achieved its Grade 1 status as recently as 2017.
There are some big names among the eighteen nominations for this year’s race, which will have a maximum of sixteen runners. The set weight is 58kg, with a 2kg allowance for fillies and mares. Some of the famous winners in recent times have been Orfevre (2013), Kizuna (2014) and Kitasan Black (2017). Longshots often pop up to win, as could be seen last year when Potager surprised at odds of 58/1. First favorites have won just three times in the past ten years, with 5-year-olds proving the dominant age group, winning six times in the same time period.
A couple of races leading into the Grade 1 Osaka Hai have been the Grade 2 Nakayama Kinen run over 1,800 meters in February, and the Grade 2 Kinko Sho run over 2,000 meters at Chukyo in March. Hiruno d’Amour holds the record time for the race when he won in a time of 1 minute, 57.8 seconds in 2011. Prize money for the winner this year is JPY 200 million (approximately USD 1.5 million) and automatic entry to this year’s Grade 1 Irish Champions Stakes is also offered to the winner.
The 67th running of the Grade 1 Osaka Hai will be Race 11 on the Sunday card at Hanshin, with a post time in Japan of 15:40. Final declarations and the barrier draw will be available later in the week.
Here’s a look at some of the runners expected to feature in Sunday’s big race:
Stars on Earth: Winner of the first two Classics for fillies in 2022, the now 4-year-old by Duramente returns here for her first run of the year. Trainer Mizuki Takayanagi recently had the following to say on the filly: “She didn’t get the best of starts in the Shuka Sho, so her position throughout the race wasn’t so good, but she ran on well at the end to get the best result possible. After the race, she had desmitis in her left foreleg and so needed a rest. We’ve monitored the situation since, but she now seems fine and has been moving well in her recent work.” Christophe Lemaire looks set to partner the filly once again.
Weltreisende: Trained by Yasutoshi Ikee, Weltreisende has only had thirteen career starts and has won four times, including his last race when he got up well to win the Grade 2 Nikkei Shinshun Hai over 2,200 meters at Chukyo in January, when ridden by David Egan. Assistant trainer Yuki Iwasaki said: “He was the only horse to carry 59kg in the Nikkei Shinshun Hai, and had to wait to get a clear run at the top of the straight, but it was a strong performance overall. After that he went to the farm, but he returned last month and everything’s been going well with his training since.” The 6-year-old Weltreisende is by Dream Journey and this time he’ll be ridden by Yuga Kawada.
Jack d’Or: The strong, front-running five-year-old wasn’t able to show his best when he finished seventh last time in the Grade 1 Hong Kong Cup last December, but back on home ground he could prove a tougher prospect, as he has shown before in his domestic races. Trainer Kenichi Fujioka commented: “He’s had a nice break at Yoshizawa Stable West and since returning to the stable, he’s been his usual self. He’s the type to choose his own way of doing things, and as long as he finds a good natural rhythm, he runs well.” Yutaka Take returns from Dubai to ride Jack d’Or for just the second time.
Geraldina: Trainer Takashi Saito could have three runners in the race, and the 5-year-old mare Geraldina gives him a good chance of victory after the horse was last seen finishing third to Equinox in last year’s Grade 1 Arima Kinen (The Grand Prix). Before that, she claimed her only Grade 1 success so far in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup last autumn. “She’s matured nicely and is more relaxed as an older horse. She ran well in the Arima Kinen up against strong male horses. We’ve had this race as her next target and I look forward to what she might achieve this year,” Saito said about the daughter of Maurice. Geraldina looks set to be ridden by Mirai Iwata for the first time, and he’s looking to score his first JRA Grade 1 victory.
Hishi Iguazu: He might now be a 7-year-old, but after his latest win in the Grade 2 Nakayama Kinen over 1,800 meters in February, it proves that trainer Noriyuki Hori knows just how to have the horse right for a big race. Recent comments from the trainer were: “After his last race, he’s been at the stable, but his appetite’s been good and he seems well after that race which came after a long break. He’s already improved with his work on March 16, when he looked tighter and quicker.” Hishi Iguazu is looking to improve on his fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Osaka Hai last year.
Killer Ability: Another runner for trainer Takashi Saito, the 4-year-old Killer Ability is one of the youngest horses in the race, and found his winning ways again two starts ago in the Grade 2 Chukyo Shimbun Hai over 2,000 meters last December. In one run this year, he finished fifth in the Grade 2 Kyoto Kinen at Hanshin in February, and it wasn’t a bad effort in the race won by Do Deuce. The trainer said: “Two starts ago he was patient in the run, and it got tight in the homestraight, but he managed to win well. It was good to win with him again, as he hadn’t won since he was a 2-year-old. Last time he got into the race well, but didn’t quite have enough left at the finish.”
North Bridge: The 5-year-old by Maurice boasts a 50% win strike rate from his twelve career races, and jockey Yasunari Iwata knows how to get the best out of him, having ridden the horse in his last nine starts. North Bridge is trained by Takeshi Okumura, who commented on the horse: “It’s been the usual pattern with him after his last race and he’s been at the stable. He put in some fast work recently with his race jockey up, and he worked him on the inside of the track so as not to overwork the horse.” North Bridge is coming off a win in the Grade 2 American Jockey Club Cup over 2,200 meters at Nakayama in January.Matenro Leo: One of the other 4-year-olds in the race, Matenro Leo was last seen finishing second to Do Deuce in the Grade 2 Kyoto Kinen in February over 2,200 meters. There was no catching the winner that day, but with 200 meters less to travel this time, things could work out well for trainer Mitsugu Kon and Matenro Leo. The trainer said: “Things have been fine since his last race and it was good to see him run well last time. He’s mentally stronger and seems like a more mature horse now, so I think he can take on this Grade 1 with no problem.” Norihiro Yokoyama is set for the ride on the son of Heart’s Cry.