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March 26, 2024


Osaka Hai (G1) - Preview
Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) (G1)

Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) (G1)
Sol Oriens

Challenge Cup (G3)
Bellagio Opera

Kyoto Kinen (G2)

Sankei Sho All Comers (G2)
Rousham Park

Daily Hai Queen Cup (G3)

Rouge Eveil
Rouge Eveil

The JRA spring Grade 1 races continue this coming Sunday (March 31), when the Osaka Hai will be run at Hanshin Racecourse over 2,000 meters on the inner turf course at the Kansai track. The race is for 4-year-olds and up, and is the first high-level middle-distance race of the year for some of Japan’s top horses, as they tune up for other big races later on in 2024.

The race was first run in 1957, when it was a handicap and known as the Sankei Osaka Hai, and run over a distance of 1,800 meters. In 1972, the distance was changed to its current 2,000 meters, and it became a Grade 2 race in 1984. It was opened to overseas runners in 2003, and the most recent change has been its elevation to Grade 1 status, just in 2017, making it the latest JRA Grade 1 of them all. That year it also got its title as simply the Osaka Hai.

Some famous winners of the race have included Orfevre (2013), Kizuna (2014) and Kitasan Black (2017) to name just a few. This year sees 20 nominations for the maximum number of 16 runners allowed in the race. Weights are set at 58kg, with a 2kg allowance for fillies and mares. Record time for the race was set just last year, when Jack d’Or managed an all-the- way win in 1 minute 57.4 seconds.

The last 10 years haven’t been kind to the first favorites, with just two of them winning, and the last one to do so was Suave Richard in 2018. Better performances have come from 5-year-olds, which have won six times in the past decade. Even more dominance is held by horses trained at the Ritto Training Center, where winners of the race every year since 2000 have been trained. This year’s Grade 1 Osaka Hai carries a total prize money of JPY432 million, with JPY200 million (approximately USD1.4 million) going to the winner. The first past the post also receives an automatic entry to the Grade 1 Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown later this year.

A couple of races this year leading into Sunday’s feature race have been the Grade 2 Nakayama Kinen, run over 1,800 meters, and the Grade 2 Kyoto Kinen, run over 2,200 meters, with both races being run in February.

The 68th running of the Grade 1 Osaka Hai will be Race 11 on the Sunday card at Hanshin, with a post time locally 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 play a part in the big race:

Tastiera: Last year’s Grade 1 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) winner hasn’t won since that big day last May, but has only had two runs since then, with his latest being a sixth-place finish in last December’s Grade 1 Arima Kinen. Top trainer Noriyuki Hori is doing his best to have the son of Satono Crown in good shape for this next run. “He came back to the stable at the end of February, and his appetite has been better than it was before the Arima Kinen. He’s in good condition, and looks well in his coat, so I think he’s refreshed, even though he’s still a little tense. His balance is good, and we’ve just been taking care regarding his hindquarters, which can be a bit of a weak point for him,” the trainer said. Jockey Kohei Matsuyama will get the ride on Tastiera this time, but he has had previous success with the horse.

Sol Oriens: The 4-year-old colt by Kitasan Black has had just the one run this year, when he was sent off favorite for the Grade 2 Nakayama Kinen over 1,800 meters in February and finished fourth, but he did manage the best final three-furlong time in that race. Trainer Takahisa Tezuka commented: “He ran quite well last time, in what was his first race in a while. He was well back in the run, and had just a bit too much to do in the end, having to race wide, but he still put in a good finish. His jockey that day (Hironobu Tanabe) recommended trying blinkers in training, and the horse has been moving well in his work with the blinkers on.” Jockey Takeshi Yokoyama will partner Sol Oriens on Sunday, and even though it’ll be the horse’s first start at Hanshin, the jockey knows what to do to get the best out of him.

Bellagio Opera: It is four wins from seven starts for the Lord Kanaloa colt, and two of his wins have come at Hanshin. He warmed up for this next race with a second-place finish in the Grade 2 Kyoto Kinen over 2,200 meters in February, and trainer Hiroyuki Uemura is confident about his chances. “His responses were good enough in his last race, and he just lost out by having to race on the inside of Pradaria in the closing stages, and that horse probably had the better ground. Despite losing in the finish, it looks like he can still improve more,” Uemura said. Jockey Kazuo Yokoyama has struck up a good partnership with Bellagio Opera, and will be looking to add to his two JRA Grade 1 victories, both achieved with Titleholder.

Pradaria: Now a 5-year-old, Pradaria has been slightly unlucky, it seems, when trying to realize his full potential, but things worked out well for him last time when he won the Grade 2 Kyoto Kinen, after disappointing in last year’s Grade 1 Arima Kinen. Trainer Manabu Ikezoe recently gave his opinion on the horse: “We probably gave him a bit too much to do before the Arima Kinen, and he lost weight before that race. He’d put weight back on for his run in the Kyoto Kinen, and he improves for having had a race. Things have been fine with this rotation for him, and he’s had his usual training pattern, looking a lot more flexible.”

Rousham Park: A horse that has really upped his game since last spring, the 5-year-old by Harbinger put together a three-race winning streak last year, before finishing eighth last time in the Grade 1 Hong Kong Cup last December. Refreshed after that, he returns for his first run of the year here. Recent comments from assistant trainer Hiroyuki Yamazaki were: “After his trip to Hong Kong, he had a break at Northern Farm Tenei. He’s recovered quickly and has a good appetite, and he has been doing some training at the farm. In just a short time, he seems to be showing a lot of power again, as we get him ready for this next race.” Keita Tosaki will ride the horse this time, in a bid for Rousham Park’s first Grade 1 success, and the top jockey will be looking to add to his two Grade 1 successes with Songline in 2023.

Harper: The 4-year-old filly by Heart’s Cry is just short of a top-level win, but she finished second in last year’s Grade 1 Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks), and perhaps of more importance is the fact that she is trained by Yasuo Tomomichi, who sent out Potager to win the Grade 1 Osaka Hai in 2022 at odds of 58/1. Harper will be having her first run of the year, after finishing ninth to Do Deuce in last year’s Grade 1 Arima Kinen. Trainer Tomomichi said: “She was up against some strong horses in the Arima Kinen, but she still ran well. Things are as usual with her after her break at Northern Farm Shigaraki. Her workload’s been good, and she’s been working well with her training partner Do Deuce.”

Rouge Eveil: Having finished second in last autumn’s Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup, and just 0.7 seconds off Pradaria last time in the Grade 2 Kyoto Kinen, the 5-year-old mare will once again get a weight allowance to boost her chances here. It will be her first time to run at Hanshin, as well as jockey Akira Sugawara’s first time to ride her, so that makes things a little more interesting too. Her trainer, Yoichi Kuroiwa, commented: “She ran smoothly last time, but ran quite wide throughout the race because the ground was rough on the inside. She had lost weight when she returned to the stable after her break at the farm, and one key will be how she progresses from now. Her hooves seem fine, and she’s been moving well in the work we’ve given her.”

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