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Hopeful Stakes (G1) Race Preview: Nakayama - Thursday, 28th December 2023

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The 40th running of the Hopeful Stakes will be held on Thursday, 28th December and it is a 2,000m turf event at Nakayama Racecourse.

DURA EREDE winning the Hopeful Stakes at Nakayama in Japan.
DURA EREDE winning the Hopeful Stakes at Nakayama in Japan. Picture: Japan Racing Association

The up-and-coming talent holds the spotlight this week with the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes wrapping up the year's top action at Nakayama Racecourse on Thursday, Dec. 28

It is only the seventh year since the 2,000-meter turf event has been promoted to a Grade 1, but it has, in a variety of forms, spanned 40 years, and is a welcome option to the other two 2-year-old Grade 1s – the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies and the Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes, both now run at Hanshin Racecourse over 1,600 meters.

The Hopeful Stakes is especially attractive to those eyeing the Classic races, as it duplicates for distance and venue the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas), the first test in Japan's Triple Crown. Winners of the race also have a shot at being named top 2-year-old of the year, as was Contrail, who scooped the Hopeful Stakes in 2019 and went on to capture the Triple Crown the following year.

Testing their mettle will be 18 of the 22 Hopeful Stakes nominees, which include four fillies. Only seven of the nominees, however, have secured a spot in the race. Fourteen others are tied for the remaining 11 opportunities to compete in the first G1 of their budding careers.

Two colts who have already claimed their right to race are Shin Emperor and Gonbade Qabus. The field standouts, they are a proven pair, both unbeaten and winners of graded competitions.

The Hopeful Stakes carries a winner's prize of JPY70 million. Colts will carry 56kg and fillies will carry 55kg. The Hopeful Stakes is the 11th race on the card of 12 at Nakayama. Post time is 15:40 local time.

Here's a look at some of the expected popular choices.

Shin Emperor: Shin Emperor, a French-bred colt by Siyouni, out of the Galileo mare Starlet's Sister, comes from a blue-blood line. He is full brother to Sottsass, a winner of three Grade 1s, including the Arc in 2020 and half-brother to the filly Sistercharlie, who aced seven Grade 1s in the U.S. In his debut Nov. 4 over 1,800 meters at Tokyo, Shin Emperor topped the field by 3 lengths under Takeshi Yokoyama. Three weeks later, the chestnut colt took on the Grade 3 Radio Nikkei Hai Kyoto Nisai Stakes over 2,000 meters at Kyoto, reared up as the gate opened, resulting in a position toward the back, but after flying over the final 3 furlongs in 35.3 seconds, still managed to win by half a length. Joao Moreira had the ride in the Kyoto Nisai Stakes, but Kazakhstan native Bauyrzhan Murzabayev is expected to be in the saddle this time.

Gonbade Qabus: His sire Bricks and Mortar pocketed five Grade 1s in the U.S., racing on turf over 1,800-2,400 meters. In his June debut, Gonbade Qabus went wire to wire over 1,600 meters at Tokyo under Damian Lane, and topped the field of 12 by 1 3/4 lengths. Next out in the Grade 3 Saudi Arabia Royal Cup over the same course, Gonbade Qabus rounded into the stretch at the back of the nine-strong field, but displayed his fine maneuverability, and had no difficulty winning by 2 lengths. He was ridden by Kohei Matsuyama, who is expected in the saddle again this time. Though not yet tested over anything longer than 1,600 meters, the extra distance for Gonbade Qabus this time looks to be a plus.

Regaleira: Regaleira's berth in the Hopeful Stakes gate is still not secure, being one of 14 nominees tied for the remaining 11 spots in the Hopeful Stakes, but if she gets in, she is definitely one to watch. By Suave Richard, who won the Osaka Hai and in 2018 the Japan Cup in 2019. Regaleira has one win from two starts, both over 1,800 meters. She aced her debut at Hakodate in early July, then returned to run in the Ivy Stakes, a listed race at Tokyo. In a field of only six and paired with Christophe Lemaire, the Northern Farm-bred filly raced handily and allowed only two colts ahead of her over the line. Her finishing time only 0.2 seconds off the winner. She is trained by Miho-based trainer Tetsuya Kimura, who has tallied three Grade 1 wins this year. Lemaire, who has yet to bag the Hopeful Stakes since it became a Grade 1, is expected up again.

Tariff Line: Another nominee who still needs to make the cut to get in is Tariff Line, a colt by Satono Diamond, who finished third in the Satsuki Sho after experiencing interference in the stretch, but went on to claim the Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger) and Arima Kinen (The Grand Prix) that same year. Like his sire, Tariff Line can exhibit stunning footwork in a race's final stage. Despite a late break, Tariff Line reached the winner's circle after a final 3-furlong time of 33.4 seconds in his debut over 1,800 meters at Tokyo on Oct. 7. Lemaire had the ride then, but Tom Marquand may pilot this time, if Tariff Line gets in.

Century Bond: Century Bond is a colt by Kizuna, who had seven wins and one third from his first nine career starts. Like his sire, Century Bond secured his Hopeful Stakes participation with two wins from his three starts to date. Though the best performance was only at the 1-win class race, all three starts have been over 2,000 meters. On a two-win roll, the Ritto-based colt has shown steady improvement and, in his most recent race, weighed in 10kg heavier than he'd recorded just two months prior. He is packing on power and though it's a sudden leap to the Grade 1 level, he is expected to be able to rise to the challenge. Looking to also continue a roll is Yutaka Take, who scooped the Arima Kinen for a total career tally of 81 Grade 1 victories. The Hopeful Stakes, having only relatively recently been promoted to its Grade 1 status, is Japan's only top-level race Take has yet to win.

Win Maximum: By Kitasan Black and another of the 11 still hoping to get in to the Hopeful Stakes is Win Maximum. He has one win and two seconds from his three tests to date, losing by only a head in the first two, then finally breaking his maiden over 2,000 meters at Nakayama on Dec. 3. In the race, taking advantage of his No. 2 gate, he led the field of 18 and held his ground until the end, putting 1 1/4 lengths between him and the second-place finisher.

Sirius Colt: Posting two wins from his three starts thus far, Sirius Colt rose from a debut win over 1,200 meters to the Grade 3 Niigata Nisai Stakes (fifth place). His most recent win was in the Fuyo Stakes over 2,000 meters at Nakayama on Sept. 30. He returns after three months off, but is looking good in trackwork. Kosei Miura, who is chasing his first Grade 1 win, is expected up on Sunday.

Admiral Ship: The Gold Ship-sired Admiral Ship aced his debut, topping a field of eight by a nose over 2,000 meters at Kyoto on Nov. 12. Based at Miho, he'll have a much shorter distance to travel to the Nakayama venue. He will be partnered with Holly Doyle, who is taking on her second Grade 1 bid on her current short-term license in Japan. Her 10 rides over the past weekend at Nakayama brought her two wins, a second and a third. Doyle rode work on Dec. 13, taking first contact with the colt over 6 furlongs. "He is a very straightforward horse. He was relaxed and responded well to my signals. He takes a good interest in his work," Doyle said. "Most importantly, he moves very well. I think the course is a tricky one for 2-year-olds, but from the way he moves, I think he'll be able to handle it."

Others of interest:

Velociraptor, whose spot in the race is secure, is also by new stallion Suave Richard, whose progeny have already laid claim to a graded-stakes winner. Velociraptor has two starts and two wins to his name. He now leaps from the open-class Nojigiku Stakes over 1,800 meters at Hanshin to the top level.

The following three colts still need to get into the gate.

Mr G T, a brother of Grade 2 winner Touching Speech, debuted over 2,000 meters at Kyoto on Nov. 5. Amid a very slow pace, the colt headed into the stretch from toward the back but unleashed a fine 33.7 final 3-furlong time that took him to the top to win by the margin of a neck. 

Di Speranza may, as the nominee with the most race-specific experience, make good use of his prior three runs, all over 2,000 meters. Ritto-based, this would be his first run at Nakayama. A huge Rulership colt already topping 520kg, Di Speranza has posted one win, a fifth and a sixth in his three starts, including the most recent the Grade 3 Radio Nikkei Kyoto Nisai Stakes. 

Shonan La Punta, a Shadai Farm-bred colt out of Grade 1 winner Furia Azteca, brought JPY1 million at the 2022 Select Sale. After winning his debut over 2,000 meters at Hanashin, he took on the Grade 2 Tokyo Sports Hai Nisai Stakes over 1,800 meters at Tokyo. Slow out of the gate, Shonan la Punta was able to finish fourth with the field-fastest time of 33.9 seconds over the final 3 furlongs.

Japan Racing Association

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