2024 News

May 21, 2024


Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) (G1) - Preview
Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) (G1)
Justin Milano

Fuji TV Sho Spring Stakes (Japanese 2000 Guineas Trial) (G2)

Hopeful Stakes (G1)

Urban Chic
Urban Chic

TV Tokyo Hai Aoba Sho (Japanese Derby Trial) (G2)
Sugar Kun

Danon Ayers Rock
Danon Ayers Rock

Radio Nikkei Hai Kyoto Nisai Stakes (G3)
Shin Emperor

Hochi Hai Yayoi Sho Deep Impact Kinen (Japanese 2000 Guineas Trial) (G2)
Cosmo Kuranda

This week, all eyes are on the Sunday’s running of Japan’s most iconic race, the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby). May 26 will see the 91st running of the Derby, which is the second leg of Japan’s Triple Crown races. To sweep the three races that comprise the crown - the 2,000-meter Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas), the 2.400-meter Japanese Derby and the autumn 3,000-meter Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger) - is considered the ultimate achievement for a 3-year-old racehorse. The Derby carries the highest prize among them, a purse of over JPY648 million (upwards of USD4.1 million) and a first-place prize of JPY300 million (about USD1.9 million).

Only 18 of the 19 nominated 3-year-olds will find a berth in the gate on Sunday. Eleven of the youngsters signed up for the Derby have scored a graded-stakes victory, proving themselves as the highly talented athletes they all are. Still early in their careers, all but one (Sugar Kun) remains untested over the distance, and surprises are par for the course. Over the last 10 runnings of the Derby, the favorite has figured in the Top 3 finishers seven times and has won twice. Either the second or third pick of the day has finished in the Top 3 eight times out of 10, and both have made the Top 3 four times over the last decade.

Only one filly, Regaleira, is amid the nominees this year, and she’s getting excellent reviews. The unbeaten Justin Milano, winner of the Satsuki Sho is expected to be the top pick on Sunday, with the names Sixpence, Danon Ayers Rock, and Urban Chic those most likely to be heard as the big day looms.

The Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) is the 11th race on the Tokyo Sunday card of 12, and is followed by the Grade 2 Meguro Kinen.

Here is a look at some of the expected popular choices.


Justin Milano: A son of 2013 Derby winner Kizuna, Justin Milano is three for three and coming off his victory in the Satsuki Sho. He, along with the also unbeaten Sixpence, is one of four colts heading to the Derby with only three starts behind them. From his 2,000-meter debut at Tokyo, weighing in at over 500kg, he went directly to win the Grade 3 Kyodo News Hai over 1,800 meters at Tokyo. After that, he went to the Satsuki Sho, topping runner-up Cosmo Kuranda by a neck in a record time of 1 minute, 57.1 seconds. If he wins here, Justin Milano will become only the eighth horse in JRA’s racing history to capture the first two of the Classics with a perfect record. With three Derby wins to his name, Yasuo Tomomichi holds the best hand among current JRA trainers. “He has a big stride and races well in tune with the rider,” Tomomichi says of Justin Milano. “He can maintain good speed over distance and the change to Tokyo will be a plus. I think he’ll be able to handle the distance. There are horses he hasn’t gone up against yet, but he should do well if he runs his own race.” Jockey Keita Tosaki, who has a best two seconds from his nine previous Derby rides, rode the colt in the Satsuki Sho and is expected up this time.

Sixpence: Also three for three, also by Kizuna, Sixpence takes on his first Grade 1 competition. Raced only at Nakayama, he debuted over a mile in September, was given another mile race at yearend, and then he won the Grade 2 Spring Stakes over 1,800 meters in mid-March, by a margin of 3 1/2 lengths under Christophe Lemaire. Racing close to the pace in all three of his starts, the extra distance and long stretch at Tokyo are by no means pluses. However, able to settle well and save his best for an electrifying final burst of speed, Sixpence is considered as a strong contender. Additionally, he’ll have the home advantage as he’s based at the Miho stable of veteran trainer Sakae Kunieda (still without a Derby win). He is set for a new rider as well, Yuga Kawada, currently topping the jockey rankings 11 wins ahead of No. 2 Lemaire. Kawada scooped the Grade 1 NHK Mile Cup earlier this month and has one previous win in the Derby (with Makahiki in 2016).

Regaleira: A Suave Richard filly based at the Miho barn of Tetsuya Kimura, Regaleira hasn’t restricted her company to fillies. She has held her ground admirably against colts from the start, always clocking the field’s fastest time over the final three furlongs. Regaleira scored two wins and one third in her first three starts, including a win of the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes. Last out, with her regular rider Lemaire sidelined with injuries, the ride in the Satsuki Sho went to Hiroshi Kitamura. The filly went to the gate as the race favorite and the only filly in the field. Interference just after the break saw her racing from the rear. Still, with her blistering late speed, she managed to make up ground to finish sixth half a second behind winner Justin Milano. She also tied Ecoro Walz for the fastest final three furlongs time of 33.9 seconds. This time out, Regaleira will carry 55kg (the weight she has carried in all of her starts), but 2kg less than the colts. Lemaire, who has one Derby win (Rey de Oro in 2017), returned to the saddle the week of the NHK Mile Cup after recovering from a fall in Dubai. Springing back into action, he scored one win and two seconds in his three G1 bids since, winning the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) last week. Back with his usual partner, he eyes his second Classic victory in a row.

Urban Chic: Urban Chic finished fourth in the Satsuki Sho and, like Regaleira, had traffic problems just out of the gate. Weighing over 500kg, the chestnut colt went to his first Classic off a second in the Grade 3 Keisei Hai. Debuted at 1,800 meters, his next three races were all over 2,000 meters and brought him a win, a second and a fourth. Though he has won from a more forward position, Urban Chic is often slow away, but he has excellent late speed, as well as great tenacity. He has won a 1-win class over 2,000 meters at Tokyo, and is expected to enjoy his second romp at the venue. Jockey Takeshi Yokoyama, gunning for his first win of the Derby on his fifth attempt. The young Yokoyama missed the win by a mere nose in 2021, a neck in 2023. If he can land his first Derby, he’ll also give Miho trainer Ryo Takei his first Derby win.

Sugar Kun: The Duramente-sired Sugar Kun is on a three-race winning streak. He just landed the Grade 2 Aoba Sho over 2,400 meters at Tokyo 2,400 last month, and with the victory, he obtained his ticket to the Derby. He is the only nominee with experience at the distance and has proven he has the stamina to stay the trip. The question is whether he has a turn of foot competitive amid these members. His sire Duramente won the Derby in 2015, but even classier is his connection through his dam Sugar Heart. Sugar Kun is a half-brother to seven-time G1 champion Kitasan Black, and like his big brother, he may be something of a late bloomer. In the saddle will be another champion Yutaka Take, who has ridden in the Derby 34 times and won it six times so far.

Danon Ayers Rock: Though his record includes no graded-stakes wins, this Maurice colt has three wins all over 1,800-2,000 meters, all of them at Tokyo. Trained by Noriyuki Hori, the Northern Farm-bred bay finished seventh in the Grade 2 Yayoi Sho Deep Impact Kinen in early March. Early this month, he won the Listed Principal Stakes at Tokyo and is expected to show further improvement this time. He shares his dam Mosheen with his half-sister Primo Scene, who ran second in the 2019 Victoria Mile.

Shin Emperor: If the French-bred Shin Emperor wins the Derby, he will be the first foreign-bred horse to do so. He is a full brother to Sottsass, the 2020 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner. After acing his debut at Tokyo last November, Shin Emperor scored a win of the Grade 3 at Kyoto later that month. Next up brought a second in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes, and another second in his first race of the year, the Grade 2 Yayoi Sho. He has had a different jockey each start and the Satsuki Sho saw him partnered with Ryusei Sakai. The Yoshito Yahagi-trained colt finished out of the Top 3 for the first time, but was still on the board in fifth, in a race won in record time. Improvement is expected for the Derby, and a good performance could turn sights to Longchamp.

Cosmo Kuranda: Finished second in the Satsuki Sho, Cosmo Kuranda broke his maiden on his fourth try, over heavy ground at Niigata. Next out was an eighth in the Grade 3 Kyoto Nisai Stakes, but from there on it was easy sailing again, with a win of the Yayoi Sho lighting his way to the Satsuki Sho. Often late at the break, he surprised Joao Moreira with a clean break in the Satsuki Sho and finished second place a neck behind the winner. Now, with Moreira riding in Brazil, Mirco Demuro steps up take the reins. Cosmo Kuranda’s only prior experience at Tokyo was his debut, where he finished last in the field of 12. Given his recent improvement and new partner Demuro, who won the Derby with Duramente in 2015 and Neo Universe in 2003, the stars for Cosmo Kuranda may align.


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