Friday, 25 May 2012
: Sunday's 79th Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) will be anything but a one-horse race unlike last year when Orfevre dominated the JRA classic.
A full field of 18 will contest the most coveted jewel of the Japanese Triple Crown over 2400m at Tokyo Racecourse led by Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) champion Gold Ship.
The four highest finishers in the Satsuki Sho qualify automatically for the Japanese Derby, along with the top two in the TV Tokyo Hai Aoba Sho and the winner of the Principal Stakes.
The inaugural Japanese Derby was held in 1932 at Tokyo's Meguro course before being moved two years later to Fuchu, where the race has remained and the distance unchanged since the first running.
The early favorites for Sunday's Japanese Derby include:
DEEP BRILLANTE: Despite being the favorite in his first four starts and the third choice in the Satsuki Sho, Deep Brillante could be an underdog in the Derby with Gold Ship and World Ace set to be the top two picks, coupled by the emergence of the likes of Fenomeno and Historical.
Deep Brillante, one of several in the field sired by the 2005 Derby winner Deep Impact, finished a respectable third in the Satsuki Sho behind Gold Ship and World Ace but hasn't been given the credit he probably deserves.
Trainer Yoshito Yahagi has declared his colt fit and ready for the big race, and jockey Yasunari Iwata – still searching for his first victory in the Japanese Derby – will return from his suspension to hopefully guide the horse to yet another G1 win for the flush Sunday Racing team.
FENOMENO: The G2 Aoba Sho is held at Tokyo over 2400 meters, just like the Japanese Derby and winning should present some advantage for the Tokyo Yushun but ironically, no horse who has won the double, modern legends like Symboli Kris S (2002) and Zenno Rob Roy (2003) being among those to fail.
Fenomeno is looking like he could be the one to end the jinx after cruising to victory by almost three lengths in near record time and hopes are high for the Sunday Racing-owned colt, trained by Hirofumi Toda.
"I don't think you could have asked for more out of him in terms of performance," said jockey Masayoshi Ebina, winner of 18 G1 races but still without a Japanese Derby. "He's been up against the best horses of his generation. I rode him for the first time in his last race, but I could tell there was something different about him the moment we stepped out on the track."
Fenomeno, by Stay Gold out of the Danehill mare De Laroche, wasn't entered in the Satsuki Sho so he could focus on trying to win the Tokyo Yushun
"He's shown no signs of fatigue after his last race," Toda said. "You get only the cream of the crop in the Derby, and we couldn't afford to enter our horse in half decent shape. He's ready to be pushed to the limit.
Fenomeno is 3-for-5 for his career and all three wins have come at Tokyo.
GOLD SHIP: Gold Ship sailed through rough waters in the Satsuki Sho to win the first Triple Crown leg by more than two lengths in good conditions. Despite the convincing performance, the Naosuke Sugai-trained colt may not even be the favorite for the Derby where he will bid to become the 15th horse to win the first two races of the Triple Crown.
However jockey Hiroyuki Uchida, who won the Tokyo Yushun two years ago aboard Eishin Flash, says the Stay Gold-sired Gold Ship – with four wins and a pair of second-place finishes from six starts – isn't your average racehorse. Gold Ship went from last to first in the Satsuki Sho, Uchida steering his partner through the cut-up inside portion of the track as the rest of the field opted for the better part of the course on the outside.
"He was so strong in the Satsuki Sho. No other horse could have run the race he did," said Uchida, who completed a career Triple Crown with victory in the Satsuki Sho. "I'm sure we'll be marked next time, but you have to expect it which also makes it all the more exciting.
Sugai, who won his first graded race with Gold Ship in the Kyodo News Service Hai in February, believes his horse could have an easier time in the Derby."I think he'll be even better racing at Tokyo," the trainer said. "To run in the classics is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I do feel the burden and responsibility, and I hope to have him in even better shape than he was for the Satsuki Sho."
GRANDEZZA: Regarded by some as the finest son of his late sire Agnes Tachyon, Grandezza will be praying for good weather and a good draw after he got neither in the Satsuki Sho. The Shadai-bred and owned colt went off as the favorite in the Satsuki Sho but disappointed with his fifth after drawing the No. 18 barrier and struggling with a rain-slick surface in the worst result of his six-start career.
Trainer Osamu Hirata is expecting his colt to bounce back in the Derby in which he will be ridden by last year's winner Kenichi Ikezoe, who guided Orfevre to the Triple Crown in 2011. "We drew the outside barrier and we were never allowed in," Hirata said, reflecting on the Satsuki Sho. "He was a little tired right after the Satsuki Sho, but he's fine now. He may have lost a little too much weight for his last start, but he's put it all back on."
It's hard to imagine Ikezoe – who will partner Grandezza for the first time – being more pressed than he was a year ago when he was aboard the Satsuki Sho champion Orfevre. Ikezoe has been working the horse for two weeks and the Triple Crown-winning jockey has come away impressed with Grandezza's form. "He was sharper than he was last week, so I think it's safe to say he's gotten rid of any fatigue he had from his last race. The distance shouldn't be an issue for him."
SPIELBERG: Take it from Hiroyuki Uchida, who will be in the saddle of Satsuki Sho champion Gold Ship in the Japanese Derby: Spielberg has what it takes to challenge for the Tokyo Yushun title. Spielberg, yet another colt in the field by Deep Impact, punched his ticket to the second Triple Crown race after winning the 2000m Principal Stakes on May 5 by close to two lengths under Uchida.
It was the first victory for the Kazuo Fujisawa-trained colt since his debut last October, and Uchida earmarked him for future success. "He'll be my competition in the Derby now. As much as I hate to admit it, I reckon he's got every chance to win it because of how he accelerates so fast and depending on the way the race unfolds."
No winner of the Principal Stakes has ever won the Japanese Derby, and Fujisawa himself has yet to capture the coveted race. The esteemed trainer had been hoping to qualify through the Kyodo News Service Hai in February but came up short, finishing third. Spielberg had to race two more times before the Principal Stakes, but given the way he has held his own against the best of his generation and how he has performed at Fuchu in the past, it wouldn't be a shock if we were to see him make a run at the winner's circle.
"I had to race him twice more than I really wanted to," Fujisawa said. "Things haven't worked out for him since finishing third but he really came to life at Tokyo in his last start which bodes well for us."
TOSEN HOMAREBOSHI: Just six races into his career, Tosen Homareboshi is already drawing comparisons to his record breaking Tenno Sho (Autumn)-winning brother Tosen Jordan. Ahead of his G1 debut in the Japanese Derby, Tosen Homareboshi shattered a JRA record of his own in the May 5 Kyoto Kinen, over 2200m. While his Yasutoshi Ikee stablemate World Ace continues to get more kudos, Tosen Homareboshi is flashing just as much in terms of potential and this Deep Impact-sired colt could end up scoring in the Derby.
"Finally, I think he had a race that brought out the best in him," Ikee said, referring to the Kyoto Shimbun Hai, a popular stepping stone to the Derby. "I asked the jockey Craig Williams to keep him away from traffic because he's got such long legs and a big stride. And I also asked him to make his move early because he's definitely got the stamina to outlast the others, and he did everything I asked.
"Even when you take into account how fast the track is in Kyoto at the moment, it's pretty scary to see a 3-year-old put up the time he put up. He ran a heck of a race, and the horse seems fine."
WORLD ACE: Things couldn't have gone worse for World Ace, trained by Triple Crown winner Yasutoshi Ikee and owned by Sunday Racing, in the Satsuki Sho. Perhaps the most talented of Deep Impact's eight sons entered in the Derby, World Ace stumbled and nearly threw Yuichi Fukunaga shortly after the start, not to mention the poor track conditions that took away from his razor-sharp closing rush which still managed to land him second place.
All Ikee wants in the Derby is some decent weather and a clean race. "I've been watching the Satsuki Sho for a long time, but I can't recall the last time I saw the track in that bad of shape," Ikee said. "He's been moving well and he just looks really sharp at the moment. He should shape up fine. The distance is probably just right for him. All we're asking for is a normal race on normal going. If we get that, we shouldn't have any problems whatsoever."
Fukunaga, the JRA's leading jockey last season, is still chasing his first Japanese Derby win after 12 tries but reckons World Ace could finally be the one to help him join a select group of eight active riders who have won the Tokyo Yushun. World Ace has yet to race at Fuchu, but his racing style – reminiscent of that of his legendary sire – should see him well suited to the 2400m at Tokyo.
"To finish as high as he did speaks everything about the talent he has," Fukunaga said, referring to his second in the Satsuki Sho. "A longer straight will be better for him for sure. If you look strictly at the race conditions, the Derby is a better race for him. I'm hoping I can pull it off somehow this time.
"There's no denying the quality, and there aren't too many horses who can finish a race the way he can. I just hope I can get the most out of him."