2024 News

April 30, 2024


NHK Mile Cup (G1) - Preview
Hanshin Juvenile Fillies (G1)
Ascoli Piceno

Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes (G1)
Jantar Mantar

Nikkan Sports Sho Shinzan Kinen (G3)
Noble Roger

New Zealand Trophy (NHK Mile Cup Trial) (G2)
Ecoro Bloom

Chunichi Sports Sho Falcon Stakes (G3)
Danon McKinley

Arlington Cup (NHK Mile Cup Trial) (G3)
Di Speranza

Tokyo Sports Hai Nisai Stakes (G2)

Saudi Arabia Royal Cup (G3)
Gonbade Qabus

Starting off five consecutive weeks of top-level JRA action at Tokyo Racecourse, the Grade 1 NHK Mile Cup will be run on Sunday, May 5, to give 3-year-olds their chance of glory over a mile, as opposed to the longer distances of the Grade 1 Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) and the Grade 1 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby), both run later on at Tokyo this month.

The Grade 1 NHK Mile Cup was first run in 1996, and it became an international race in 2009. The tough Tokyo mile is a true test for the 3-year-olds, even though some of them have already proved themselves at Hanshin in the Grade 1 Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) earlier this year, or as 2-year-olds in Grade 1 races also run at Hanshin in 2023. However, conquering the long homestraight at Tokyo is definitely one of the keys to success in this week’s big race.

There are 27 nominations for this year’s NHK Mile Cup, with a maximum field size of 18, so there’s plenty of competition for a place in the final line-up. No geldings are permitted to run, and colts carry 57kg, with a 2kg allowance given to fillies. The race often throws up a winner at a big price, as was the case last year when Champagne Color won as the ninth favorite. Just two first favorites have won in the last 10 years, with Major Emblem being the last one in 2016. The last filly to win was Aerolithe in 2017. Record time for the race is still held by Danon Chantilly, who won back in 2010 in a time of 1 minute, 31.4 seconds. This year’s winner’s check is JPY 130 million (about USD 900,000).

Two official trial races leading into this week’s feature race have been the Grade 2 New Zealand Trophy, run at Nakayama over a mile in April, and the Grade 3 Arlington Cup, also run over a mile in April, but at Hanshin.

The 29th running of the NHK Mile Cup will be Race 11 on the Sunday card at Tokyo, with a post time of 15:40 local time. Final declarations and the barrier draw will be available later in the week. Here’s a look at some of the runners expected to take on the race:

Ascoli Piceno: The Daiwa Major filly might have lost her unbeaten record last time in the Grade 1 Oka Sho in early April, but there was very little in it at the finish, and she will be back at Tokyo this time, where she won on her debut as a 2-year-old over 1,400 meters. Trainer Yoichi Kuroiwa said: “She handled the transportation over to the track well for the Oka Sho, and despite starting slowly in the race, she quickly recovered to get a good position. She got bumped a little turning for home, but despite this, she still ran on well. She’s recovered from that race without any problems, and we’ve been able to make this next race the target for her.”

Jantar Mantar: The Best Two-Year-Old Colt of 2023 has had two races as a 3-year-old, finishing second in the Grade 3 Kyodo News Hai over 1,800 meters at Tokyo in February, and most recently placing third in the Grade 1 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) at Nakayama in April. Trainer Tomokazu Takano commented on the horse: “He wasn’t able to hold off the other two horses in the closing stages last time, and just couldn’t find any more at the end, but I was still satisfied with his third-place finish. He’s a top-class horse with a lot of ability.” Coming back in trip looks ideal for the son of Palace Malice, and Yuga Kawada, who is currently at the top of the jockeys’ table, is expected to take the ride once again.

Bond Girl: The filly has had an interrupted career so far, and it will be interesting to see if she can realize some of her potential here, after having her first run of 2024, which saw her finish second in the Grade 2 New Zealand Trophy at Nakayama. Trainer Takahisa Tezuka said: “She had to miss the Juvenile Fillies last year, so we then thought about going directly to the Oka Sho, but she couldn’t get balloted into that. The New Zealand Trophy became her next race, and despite being off for a while, she put in a good run. The jockey was riding her for the first time, and thought she got into a good rhythm in the race. What’s more, it gained her some valuable prize money to get entered into races from now.” Yutaka Take looks set once again to ride the filly by Daiwa Major.

Noble Roger: It will be just the fourth career start for Noble Roger, and he has two wins and a second to his name up to now. He is coming off a second-place finish to the useful Meisho Tabaru in the Grade 3 Mainichi Hai over 1,800 meters at Hanshin in March, where the ground probably made all the difference. “It was the first time for him to run over 1,800 meters last time, but he was patient throughout the race,” said assistant trainer Sho Tajima. “It made a big difference, with the winner running on the inside, but he showed a lot of power to stay on and finish second.” Noble Roger is an American-bred colt by Palace Malice.

Ecoro Bloom: Sire Daiwa Major looks to be well represented in the race, and Ecoro Bloom would certainly have a chance on his win over a mile in the Grade 2 New Zealand Trophy. That victory impressed his trainer, Yukihiro Kato. “Speaking to the rider last time, he said it was important for the horse to find a good rhythm. Turning for home in his last race, the gap between horses closed on him, but he was able to switch to the outside and regain his speed. It showed that he’s a horse with some ability,” the trainer said. Takeshi Yokoyama rode Ecoro Bloom to that inspiring victory last time, and is expected to ride him again this Sunday.

Danon McKinley: An expensive purchase at the 2022 Select Sale, the colt by Maurice has won three times from his five career starts to date, and got back to winning ways last time, when he finished well to take out the Grade 3 Chunichi Sports Sho Falcon Stakes over 1,400 meters at Chukyo. Comments from assistant trainer Nobuyuki Tashiro were: “It was important for him to get into the flow of the race last time, and in the homestraight he used his turn of foot to good effect. We were also pleased that he could get a result racing left-handed. He’s been working well in the meantime, and mentally things have improved with him.”

Di Speranza: The colt by Rulership is unbeaten over a mile, and has won his last two races, the latest being the Grade 3 Arlington Cup, when he was ridden by Joao Moreira. Assistant trainer Sho Tajima said: “Two starts ago, he was well back in the run, but last time he could get a better early position in the race, so he’s showed us different ways of racing. Switching to the outside in the homestraight last time worked very well, and he’s now won two consecutive races over a mile.”

Strauss: Another colt by Maurice, Strauss has won twice at Tokyo from three starts at the track, even though he didn’t have much luck in running last time, when finishing ninth in the Grade 3 Falcon Stakes. Strauss is trained by Ryo Takei, and the trainer recently commented on the horse: “In the Falcon Stakes, the ground favored the frontrunners on the inside, so instructions were to keep him on the inside. He ran patiently, but couldn’t get a clear run at the end. I thought it was a good step race for him, and since returning to the stable, he’s been his usual self.”

Mention should also go to Gonbade Qabus, a colt trained by Noriyuki Hori, and it will be the horse’s first run as a 3-year-old. The colt by Bricks and Mortar looks set to be ridden by Joao Moreira.

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