2023 News

December 12, 2023


Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes (G1) - Preview
Danon McKinley
Danon McKinley

Tokyo Sports Hai Nisai Stakes (G2)

Daily Hai Nisai Stakes (G2)
Jantar Mantar

Sapporo Nisai Stakes (G3)
Set Up

After the fillies’ race last week, it is the turn of the 2-year-old colts on Sunday, Dec. 17, when the Grade 1 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes will be run over the same course and distance at Hanshin Racecourse once again.

Races for 2-year-olds were first held at Tokyo back in 1946, but the first year for this race, which was previously known as the Asahi Hai Sansai Stakes, was in 1949, when it was run over a shorter distance of 1,100 meters, before becoming a 1,200 meters race in 1959. Just three years later, the distance was switched to a mile. The race was always run at Nakayama Racecourse until the change to Hanshin in 2014, where it is run on the outer turf course.

Despite the final Grade 1 for 2-year-olds, the Hopeful Stakes, coming up on Dec. 28, there are 19 nominations for this year’s Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes, with a maximum number of 18 runners to get a start. No geldings are permitted, and all colts carry a set weight of 56kg, with a 1kg allowance for fillies, of which there are two among the nominations. Dream Journey (2006), Admire Mars (2018) and Do Deuce (2021) are some winners of the race who carved out big careers later on.

Some races leading up to this Sunday’s Grade 1 have been the Grade 3 Niigata Nisai Stakes, run over a mile in August, the Grade 3 Kokura Nisai Stakes, run over 1,200 meters in September, and the Grade 2 Daily Hai Nisai Stakes, run over a mile at Kyoto in November. The last 10 years have seen just three first favorites win, and six of the past 10 winners have been trained at the Ritto Training Center in the west of Japan. Record time for the race is held by Grenadier Guards, and he won in a time of 1 minute, 32.3 seconds in 2020. This year’s winner’s check is JPY 70 million (about USD 500,000).

The 75th running of the Grade 1 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes will be Race 11 on the Sunday card at Hanshin, with a local post time of 15:40. Final declarations and the barrier draw will be available later this week.

Here’s a look at some of the runners expected to take on the race:

Danon McKinley: The colt by Maurice has won both of his starts in good style, the latest being at Kyoto in November over 1,400 meters. He won at Hanshin over the same distance on his debut, but now he has to see out an extra 200 meters, as well as handle the outer turf course at the track. He looks to be a good horse in the making, and Christophe Lemaire is expected to pick up the ride this time. When he rode Danon McKinley recently in work, the leading rider thought the horse was a “little tense, but that he has a nice strong back.” Lemaire is looking for his 50th JRA Grade 1 victory in a race that he has yet to win.

Strauss: Another son of Maurice, the form of Strauss is looking good, with two wins from his three starts, which have included a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Saudi Arabia Royal Cup over a mile at Tokyo in October, a race that usually ranks highly in a 2-year-old’s progressive career. His latest win came in the Grade 2 Tokyo Sports Hai Nisai Stakes over 1,800 meters in November, and in each of his races, he has been ridden by different foreign jockeys. This time Tom Marquand is set to ride the Ryo Takei-trained Strauss, and he will be looking forward to another Grade 1 ride in Japan, after the unfortunate withdrawal of Bond Girl from last week’s big race.

Jantar Mantar: The booking of Yuga Kawada for the ride on the colt by Palace Malice says a lot about the horse that has yet to taste defeat. His latest win came in the Grade 2 Daily Hai Nisai Stakes at Kyoto, and trainer Tomokazu Takano has been keeping a watchful eye on the horse in training. “We’re concentrating on the horse’s rhythm in track work, but he’s doing well with this,” Takano said. “He’ll be up against different horses in this next Grade 1, and it’ll be interesting to see how he can do.” Jantar Mantar was bred at Shadai Farm and runs in the colors of the Shadai Race Horse Co. Ltd.

Ecoro Walz: Another unbeaten colt, Ecoro Walz has shown that he possesses plenty of talent, having won both of his races over 1,800 meters back in the summer, the latest being the open class Cosmos Sho at Sapporo. Trainer Mitsunori Makiura commented: “He’s probably gained 10kg since his last race, but this is him developing. He’s been moving well in training, and I’m not worried about him taking on a mile race for the first time.” Ecoro Walz is by Black Tide, and Yutaka Take will be returning from a spell on the sidelines, due to injury, and is expected to take the ride.

Set Up: The colt by Declaration of War has confirmed himself as a true frontrunner, taking the lead from the start in all three of his races, and dominating the opposition away last time, when he won the Grade 3 Sapporo Nisai Stakes over 1,800 meters in September. Jockey Takeshi Yokoyama has struck up a good partnership with him. “He seems to be getting stronger,” Yokoyama said after recent trackwork. “I’ve been working him the way I’d like to see him run, with a good rhythm in a race over a mile.” The jockey is looking for his seventh JRA Grade 1 win, and his second this year, after winning the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) on Sol Oriens.

Enya Love Faith: Winning on his debut at Chukyo in July, the colt by A Shin Hikari has had two runs since and placed second behind Jantar Mantar last out in the Grade 2 Daily Hai Nisai Stakes. Trainer Naoyuki Morita said: “We’ve had cheekpieces on him in training, and we’ll see what effect this has as this next race approaches.” Jockey Hideaki Miyuki is scheduled to ride Enya Love Faith, in a bid to win his ninth JRA Grade 1, and his first since Akai Ito in the 2021 Queen Elizabeth II Cup.

A couple of other colts with two consecutive wins going into Sunday’s race are Awesome Stroke and Satomino Kirari. Awesome Stroke has already won twice over a mile, at Nakayama and Tokyo, while Satomino Kirari will be stepped up to a mile this time, after wins over 1,200 and 1,400 meters.
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