Friday, 18 May 2012
: The females are in the spotlight for the second week running on Sunday with the 73rd running of the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) in Tokyo.
The Oaks is the second jewel in the fillies' Triple Crown over 2,400 meters on turf.
It is 800m longer than the Oka Sho and only six fillies have completed the double since 1984 when the Japan Racing Association introduced the graded race system.
The Oaks was an even longer race in its original format at 2700m at Hanshin but was reduced to 2450m in 1940 then, three years later shortened to its current distance of 2400m. It moved to its present stage at Tokyo's Fuchu course in 1946.
A full gate of 18 runners is set for Sunday's running led by Oka Sho winner Gentildonna.
GENTILDONNA - This Deep Impact filly topped the Oka Sho and, though she has raced exclusively at 1600m and only right handed must still have a good chance in the Oaks.
Trainer Sei Ishizaka says Gentildonna has given him no trouble maintaining her condition, nor has she had any particular problems racing. Ishizaka also says that her last two races have indicated to him that she can handle the distance.
"This is it. This is the race where it's all going to come together," he says. "We've done all that we needed to do up to this point and I expect a good race."
Yasunari Iwata was in the irons for her last two races, but a suspension has him sidelined for Oaks day with Yuga Kawada taking the mount.
VERXINA- This gutsy filly, also by Deep Impact, impressed with her aggressive closing move in the Oka Sho. She caught and passed I'm Yours and made a strong bid for the top but ended half a length behind Gentildonna in second.
It was her first loss to other fillies and her second loss of her five-race career.
Trainer Yasuo Tomomichi took her to the 1600m Queens Cup for experience at Tokyo and her victory in that prompted him to take on the Oka Sho, but the longer distances are still what he believes she needs. The first three races of her career, two at 1800m and one at 2000m, yielded two wins and a third.
"I thought she was a type that prefers to have more distance," he said. "She doesn't have great acceleration, but can keep going well at length. This time could do the trick.
"It was frustrating to come so close in the Oka Sho. I really am hoping she can turn the tables this time."
MIDSUMMER FAIR - One filly with some distance behind her is this flly by Derby winner Tanino Gimlet. On a two-race winning streak, she topped the field on April 22 in the G2 Flora Stakes at Tokyo, easily pulling away from the others and beating runnerup Ice Follies to the line by 2.5 lengths. Before that, she also won the Kunshiran Sho, an allowance race at Hanshin.
Trainer, ex-jockey Futoshi Kojima, claims his filly wasn't giving it her all in the Flora Stakes. "When she pulled away from the others, she was still playing around," Kojima said. "We want the extra distance. And I want her to not goof off but give us a serious run."
HANA'S GOAL - Hana's Goal has a tight schedule, having run in the NHK Mile Cup on May 6 at Tokyo. It was initially intended she would skip the Oaks, but the NHK Mile saw her show fine acceleration in the straight to finish seventh as the only filly in the 18-strong lineup.
Hana's Goal beat out both Joie de Vivre and Gentildonna in the Tulip Sho on March 3 at Hanshin and was set for the Oka Sho but was sidelined just days out with an injury. Before that, she had impressed with a rocket final 3 furlongs in 33 seconds in a 1400m lower-class mile at Tokyo.
Two pluses in her favor are being spared the long haul to Ritto from the Miho stable of former jockey Kazuhiro Kato and the all-female field.
Kato thinks she can improve on her last run. "If she can show us that quick turn of foot she has, I think we can expect some good results," Kato says.
I'M YOURS - Third in the Oka Sho, I'm Yours will be taking on the Tokyo course and a left-handed track for the first time. The Falbrav filly picked up her second major win with victory in the G2 Fillies' Revue on March 11 at Hanshin.
From the stable of Takahisa Tezuka, I'm Yours was second in the G1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies and has yet to race in anything longer than a mile. But she has never been out of the money in her seven starts and has raced in graded races in her last five outings and won two of them.
She has had five different riders in her seven starts and this time Australian Craig Williams will be in the saddle for the first time.
"People are concerned about the distance," says Tezuka, "but all the horses are the same in that respect. Above all, she has talent and is consistent. I want her to revenge her loss in the Oka Sho."
QUATRE FEUILLES - Katsuhiko Sumii, fresh back from a win in Hong Kong, hopes to get lucky again with yet another daughter of Deep Impact who is coming off a win of the 2000m Wasurenagusa Sho at Hanshin the day before the Oka Sho. It was her third race at 1800m or over and her first win.
The Oaks will be her first race to the left and represents a huge step up in level as well. Her only attempt in a graded-race was in the Flower Cup at Nakayama, where she turned in a fifth finish over yielding going.
She was second to Mount Shasta in the Armeria Sho. Yuichi Fukunaga has the ride.
PARA LA SALUD - The Deep Impact fillies keep coming. Para la Salud disappointed in the Oka Sho with a ninth but did quicken in the final stages enough to attract attention. She was coming off a three-race winning streak, including the Anemone Stakes at Nakayama, where she has notched all her wins.
She is trained by Sakae Kunieda, who remains optimistic and believes she can still do well in her first race over a distance greater than a mile, her first time at Tokyo and first time racing to the left.
"She doesn't look like a stayer but I think the long Tokyo stretch will suit her and I'm hoping to see that final push she showed in the Oka Sho here as well," Kunieda says.