Six straight weeks of Grade 1 events at Tokyo wrap up with the Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen this Sunday, June 5. One of Japan's two most important mile events on turf, the 72nd running of the 1,600-meter turf event has attracted 21 nominees for the 18 available berths. The first-place prize has been increased JPY50 million for a total JPY180 million to the winner.
Though the race has long been a favorite with overseas-based challengers, especially from Hong Kong, this year all runners are Japan-based. Six of them have already laid claim to a top-level race, but the Yasuda Kinen is known for bestowing that coveted first big victory on many. Six horses in the race's past 10 runnings have won their first Grade 1 here.
The 2022 nominees also include four fillies and mares, three coming off the Victoria Mile. The girls have become quite the attention-getters in the Yasuda Kinen, not simply because they enjoy a weight allowance, but because there's been at least one (two in 2020) in the Top 2 spots for the past four years straight.
The race starts at the top of the backstretch with some 500 meters to the first turn. There is an initial downward slope before the track rises sharply halfway down the backstretch and then drops around the bend. Again, the track rises sharply from about 450 meters out until leveling with 300 meters to go.
The race is open to 3-year-olds and up. While 3-year-olds carry 54kg, older horses will carry 58kg and fillies and mares are given a 2kg allowance. The Yasuda Kinen is the 11th race on the Sunday card of 12 at Tokyo, with a post time here in Japan of 15:40.
This will be the second day of the year's third Tokyo meet, but races have been held nonstop for seven weeks and will continue at Tokyo through the end of June.
Indy Champ, 4 years old at the time, set the current race record of 1 minute, 30.9 seconds in 2019.
The following horses are expected to be this year's popular choices:
Schnell Meister : This 4-year-old son of Kingman was the third-place finisher here last year. The colt was coming off a win of the 3-year-old NHK Mile Cup (his first Grade 1 win) a month prior. In the fall, the German-bred colt returned to win the Grade 2 Mainichi Okan over 1,800 meters at Tokyo, and then ran second in the Grade 1 Mile Championship at Hanshin. This year, he's back following an eighth-place in the Dubai Turf, a performance trainer Takahisa Tezuka attributes to poor preparation when the colt failed to improve as expected after arriving in the UAE. "The change to the Tokyo 1,600 meters is a plus," the trainer stated. Schnell Meister, however, will also be carrying 58kg, his most ever, 1kg up from Dubai and 4kg heavier than he had in the 2021 Yasuda Kinen. Jockey Christophe Lemaire, who has ridden five of the colt's starts, is expected up this time.
Soul Rush : Until late last year, the now 4-year-old Soul Rush was given mostly 2,000 meters, the distance his sire Rulership had excelled at. From early December, however, trainer Yasutoshi Ikee switched him to a mile and the colt has responded with a stellar four-win winning streak. He has topped the fields over all kinds of going, and only moved up to the graded level last out for the Grade 2 Yomiuri Milers Cup at Hanshin, where he won by half a length over Ho O Amazon despite a late break. His only experience at Tokyo was a fourth-place finish over 2,300 meters early in his career, but he has won over the Chukyo mile. This time, he too will be carrying 58kg, his heaviest weight by 2kg. Jockey Suguru Hamanaka, who has ridden his last four starts, is pegged for the ride.
Songline : The 4-year-old daughter of Kizuna just missed winning the 2021 NHK Mile Cup by a nose, and she'll be meeting Schnell Meister for the first time since that race. She has had five starts since, all at the graded level, with one win each in Grade 2 and Grade 3 company. Her most recent win was secured in Riyadh, in the 1351 Turf Sprint, a Grade 3 over the distance of the race name. Her first race in Japan this year was the Grade 1 Victoria Mile just three weeks ago, when she finished fifth only two lengths behind Sodashi and was right up there with Yasuda hopefuls Fine Rouge and Resistencia. She has had success over the Tokyo mile, where she won her debut and the Grade 2 Fuji Stakes. Though the filly will carry 2kg less than most of the field, the weight will be her highest by 1kg. Jockey Kenichi Ikezoe, who has ridden six of her 10 career starts, is expected in the saddle.
Fine Rouge : Another filly by Kizuna, Fine Rouge is fielded by trainer Tetsuya Kimura, who has had five runners finish in the Top 3 in Grade 1 events this year. She finished second in her two starts this year, both at Tokyo - the Grade 3 Tokyo Shimbun Hai over the mile and the Victoria Mile, where she rallied after stumbling in the stretch. In the Grade 3, she performed admirably up against older horses for the first time and against males, for only the third time since breaking her maiden over the Tokyo 1,400 meters. Though her sire won at the graded level at distances of 1,800 to 2,400 meters, her dam Passion Rouge had some success in sprints and Fine Rouge has displayed versatility.
Elusive Panther : Elusive Panther dropped back to the lower levels and shorter distances after a 10th-place finish in the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) last year. He, however, returned to the limelight in early February with his win of the Grade 3 Tokyo Shimbun Hai over the Tokyo mile. He topped the field (and runnerup Fine Rouge by 1 3/4 lengths) with a stunning turn of foot that took him from just one off the rear to the winner's circle, following a blistering 33.1 seconds over the final three furlongs. It was a dramatic fourth-straight win, three over the mile, all at Tokyo. The Heart's Cry colt has had four months off, but he's done well returning unprepped before and gave a good show in morning work last week. Jockey Hironobu Tanabe, who has ridden his last four starts and rode Ask Victor More to a surprise third place in last week's Japanese Derby, is set to take the reins.
Other runners of interest are:
The 3-year-old Serifos, by Daiwa Major, was runnerup in the 2-year-old Grade 1 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes over the Hanshin mile. He also finished fourth in this year's NHK Mile Cup at Tokyo, a length and a half behind the winner. He will have the advantage of the field's lightest weight of 54kg.
Winner of the 2020 Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes as a 2-year-old, Danon The Kid finished third in the Grade 1 Mile Championship last November, and was fourth in the Grade 2 Fuji Stakes over the Tokyo mile. Current leading jockey Yuga Kawada, who has won the race three times before, is expected up.
The American-bred Cafe Pharoah is something of a wild card. Trained by Noriyuki Hori, he's a two-time winner of the Grade 1 February Stakes over the Tokyo dirt mile. He has raced on turf only once - in the Grade 3 Hakodate Kinen over 2,000 meters at Hakodate - and finished ninth. He is expected to be partnered with jockey Yuichi Fukunaga, who has won the Yasuda Kinen two times so far.