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Yushun Himba (G1) Race Preview: Tokyo - Sunday, 19th May 2024

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The 85th running of the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) will be held on Sunday, May 19th and it is a 2,400m turf event at Tokyo Racecourse.

LIBERTY ISLAND winning the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) at Tokyo in Japan.
LIBERTY ISLAND winning the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) at Tokyo in Japan. Picture: Japan Racing Association

It is the third Classic of the year this coming Sunday (May 19), when the Grade 1 Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) will be run at Tokyo Racecourse, where the top-level action continues for the next few weeks. The race for 3-year-old fillies is run over 2,400 meters on the turf track at the course, and it will be the first time for many of them to attempt the mile and a half distance of the race.

First run in 1938, it was originally run in the autumn at Hanshin over a longer distance, before the switch to Tokyo in 1946, when it was first run in the spring over 2,400 meters. It has been held at Tokyo ever since then. Foreign-bred horses were permitted to run in 2003, and the race became an international Grade 1 in 2010.

Recent big-name winners of the race have included Almond Eye (2018), Loves Only You (2019), Daring Tact (2020), and just last year, Liberty Island. There are 18 fillies nominated for this year's Grade 1 Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks), which has a maximum field size of 18.

A couple of lead-up races to this Sunday's big race have been the Grade 3 Flower Cup, run over 1,800 meters at Nakayama in March, and the Grade 2 Sankei Sports Sho Flora Stakes (an official Oaks trial), run over 2,00 meters at Tokyo in April.

All the fillies carry a set weight of 55kg, and there's a JPY150 million (around USD1 million) first place check for the winner, out of total prize money of JPY325 million. First favorites have a fair record in the race, with five of them winning in the past 10 years, and Liberty Island has been the most recent, when she was sent off a very strong favorite in last year's race. Record time for the race was set by Loves Only You, when she produced a time of 2 minutes, 22.8 seconds in 2019.

The 85th Grade 1 Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) will be race 11 on the Sunday card at Tokyo, with a post time locally of 15:40. Final declarations and the barrier draw will be available later in the week.

Here's a look at some of this year's top fillies expected to take on the race:

Stellenbosch: Never out of the first two in five starts, which have included three wins, the filly by Epiphaneia's big win came in the Grade 1 Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) last time. As with so many of the other runners, it'll be her first time to race beyond 1,800 meters, but she could have what it takes to see out the distance this time. Trainer Sakae Kunieda commented: "She didn't get a good position from the start last time, but the jockey did a great job to get her into the race, and she finished well to win with a bit in hand. She's had her usual break at Northern Farm Tenei, and she's returned to the stable refreshed. She weighed a little less for her last race, but the warmer weather is the reason for that." Jockey Keita Tosaki has been booked this time for the ride on Stellenbosch.

Sweep Feet: Something of a bargain at the 2022 Hokkaido Summer Sale, the filly by Suave Richard must be pleasing her connections with the prize money she has secured so far. She had plenty of racing as a 2-year-old, and this year she won the Grade 2 Tulip Sho at Hanshin in March, and then went on to finish a close fourth to Stellenbosch in the Grade 1 Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) in April. Trainer Yasushi Shono said: "She went to the farm after her last race, and returned to the stable at the end of April. She recovered quickly from her last run, and she was seen at her best in the Tulip Sho. This next race is at Tokyo, and she'll have to transport over for it, so she won't need such strong work in training. We'll just monitor her condition as we see things." It will be the first time for Sweep Feet to race beyond a mile this time. Jockey Yutaka Take, who brought up his 4,500th JRA win last weekend, rides the filly, and he's won the Oaks three times.

Admire Belle: Another filly by Suave Richard, Admire Belle has raced three times at Tokyo over 2,000 meters - including a recent win in the Grade 2 Sankei Sports Sho Flora Stakes - so she might be able to see out the extra 400 meters at the track better than some of the other runners. "The race worked out perfectly for her last time, by getting a good position in behind the leaders and biding her time," said trainer Yukihiro Kato. "She found a good rhythm, and completed the first five furlongs in about 60 seconds, and was then able to finish off strongly. On that run, the Oaks looks good for her."

Queen's Walk: The filly by Kizuna is from the stable of trainer Mitsumasa Nakauchida, and the horse has done little wrong in her four career starts, which have included two wins. She was last seen finishing eighth in the Grade 1 Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas), but she didn't lose too much in defeat that day, as assistant trainer Taku Fukunaga explained: "With a tightly packed field in the Oka Sho, it was difficult for her to find a good rhythm. It didn't matter so much about the final result, and since her break at Northern Farm Shigaraki, she's returned to the stable, where we have been tuning her up for this next race. Hopefully, she'll be able to show her best this time," Fukunaga said.

Mi Anhelo: It is two wins from three starts for the Duramente filly, and her latest win came in the Grade 3 Flower Cup over 1,800 meters at Nakayama in March. Trainer Toru Hayashi is pleased with the filly's development. "She ran a good race last time, thanks to the jockey's efforts," the trainer said. "The start was in front of the stands, but she was calm and I could take a lot from that. She's returned from the farm in good condition, and she seems to be developing more after every race."

Cervinia: The filly by Harbinger produced some good runs as a 2-year-old, including a win at Tokyo over a mile, but she was a little disappointing in her only run as a 3-year-old, when she could only finish 13th in the Grade 1 Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) in April. She faded at the end of that race, but trainer Tetsuya Kimura thinks she is better than that result suggests. "She stayed at Ritto before the Oka Sho, and in the race itself, I don't think she lost because of the draw she had," the trainer said. "Coming off her break, I don't think she had done enough in training, and it was an unfortunate result. On her return from the farm this time, she seems to be fine, as we keep an eye on things."

Light Back: Although she didn't win the Grade 1 Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas), Light Back produced the fastest final three-furlong time in the race, when she finished third to Stellenbosch. It could bode well for a good closing finish this time, if she can see out the distance of the race. Trainer Taiki Chaki said: "She was right at the back in the Oka Sho, but showed a great turn of foot at the end. It was easier for her to find a good rhythm in that race than it was for her in the Elfin Stakes. She's improving all the time, and despite the fact that she can get a bit worked up, she's returned from the farm a lot calmer." Jockey Ryusei Sakai looks set to continue his association with the daughter of Kizuna.

Koganeno Sora: The daughter of Gold Ship has won her last three races, and the latest was the Listed Sweet Pea Stakes over 1,800 meters at Tokyo in April. Trainer Takanori Kikuzawa commented: "The pace was quick last time, and she was a little further back than usual, but she finished well to win with the best final three-furlong time. She's really developed a lot this year, after a while without racing, so we can look to the Oaks with her. She ate up well after her last race, and I don't think we'll need to do too much with her this time, with the short interval between races."
Japan Racing Association

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