Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) (G1) - Preview
Sing That Song
This Sunday at Hanshin Racecourse, the fillies get a headstart on the 3-year-old Classics. The 83rd running of the Grade 1 Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) has attracted 25 nominees for its 18 berths (to be declared on Thursday) and a total purse topping JPY300 million. The first filly to cross the line after conquering 1,600 meters of turf will land JPY140 million.
The spotlight is turned on the fleet-footed Liberty Island, a Duramente daughter, and awardee of the JRA Best Two-Year-Old Filly for 2022. In that same spotlight is Light Quantum, a hot new Deep Impact filly who won the Grade 3 Shinzan Kinen in January.
The Oka Sho is the shortest of the Fillies’ Classic races and is followed by the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) over 2,400 meters at Tokyo next month. The Shuka Sho wraps it up (back in Kyoto this year) in October over 2,000 meters.
The Oka Sho starts in the backstretch of the Hanshin outer course with about 450 meters to the turn, which is on a bit of a downhill. Into the straight, nearly 480 meters long, the track rises about two meters from 200 meters. The early pace is often relaxed and the race often won by a burst of lightning-fast speed.
The Oka Sho favorite has only won once in the last 10 runnings, back in 2014 when Harp Star took top honors. But, the No. 1 pick at post time has figured in the Top 3 finishers six times over the same time period (double-digit darkhorses never). A filly with only one prior win to her name going in to the Oka Sho has won the race four times over the last decade. There are five fillies in that position this year - Kona Coast, Perifania, June Orange, Conch Shell and Doe Eyes.
The Oka Sho is the 11th race on Hanshin’s Sunday card of 12. Post time is 15:40 local time. All runners will carry 55 kg.
Sodashi, who won in 1 minute, 31.1 seconds in 2021, is the current Oka Sho record-holder.
Here’s a look at the likely top picks.
Liberty Island:Trainer Mitsumasa Nakauchida has only tested his Duramente-sired Liberty Island over 1,600 meters. In winning her debut at Niigata last summer, she tied the JRA record for the fastest time over the final three furlongs - 31.4 seconds. She returned three months later in the Grade 3 Artemis Stakes and missed the win by a neck, then made good with the Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies, quite an accomplishment considering her career was only 118-days old. Jockey Yuga Kawada, current JRA leading jockey and regular rider for Liberty Island, is expected to take the reins on Sunday. After his win last year aboard Stars on Earth (seventh pick at the time), he’s looking to become only the sixth rider thus far to make it two in a row.
Light Quantum: Trainer Koshiro Take fields Light Quantum, a Deep Impact filly that did not debut until late in her 2-year-old year. She took on the Tokyo 1,600 meters and went wire to wire under jockey Christophe Lemaire, to top the field by two and a half lengths. Next out in the Grade 3 Shinzan Kinen with Yutaka Take up, Light Quantum was slow away, and raced wide amid the small field of seven. She displayed the lightness of foot, spring in her gait of her sire and, perhaps most importantly, showed her sharp turn of foot, the kind that carries a horse to the top of the field with apparent effortlessness. That was in early January, but the time off isn’t expected to pose a problem. The biggest unknown is how she will fare racing to the right for the first time. She will also carry 1kg more than she has before.
Harper: The Heart’s Cry filly Harper has two wins from her four starts, including a win by a neck over Doe Eyes in the Grade 3 Daily Hai Queen Cup over 1,600 meters at Tokyo on Feb. 11. Her previous two starts before the Queen Cup were at Hanshin, however, where she is proven at the distance as well. The win in the Queen Cup was important in another way. Though she displays dogged tenacity in trackwork, she had previously been bothered by other horses during a race. In the Queen Cup, however, she kept her cool even in tight spots, which was a huge gain. Based at the stable of Yasuo Tomomichi (gunning for his first Fillies’ Classic victory), this time she’ll have the home advantage. She has had a different rider for each of her three starts and should have a further advantage in Christophe Lemaire as her expected new partner for the Oka Sho. If Harper can win it, she’ll become the first Queen Cup winner to take the race since 1976.
Ravel: Ravel is by seven-time Grade 1 champion Kitasan Black, and she’s out of Sambre et Meuse, who had three wins over 6-8 furlongs. The mix has looked to be a good one for the shorter distances needed for a filly’s first big races. After winning her 1,800-meter debut, Ravel topped Liberty Island by a neck in acing the Grade 3 Artemis Stakes over 1,600 meters at Tokyo. Next out in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies, however, she was tense and quickly tired after a brief fight, then slipped back to finish in 11th place. There is some concern about the gate, but the four months in between this race and her last are expected to work in her favor. If she can stay in tune with her rider (regular rider Ryusei Sakai expected up) and access the best of what she has displayed before, she may be able to make Yoshito Yahagi only the fifth trainer in JRA history to capture all the Classic races.
Doe Eyes: The Rulership-sired Doe Eyes has only won her debut, but she made Top 3 in her next four starts. Third in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies after missing the break, she returned in the Queen Cup, aced the start and missed the win by a neck behind Harper. She looks to be in good shape and is not to be overlooked.
Others to watch are:
Kona Coast has four starts to her name, but she’s fresh off a second by a nose in the Grade 2 Tulip Sho and this week’s race will be her third since returning from her debut race in the last summer. Improvement is expected.