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Takamatsunomiya Kinen (G1) Race Preview: Chukyo - Sunday, 24th March 2024

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The 54th running of the Takamatsunomiya Kinen will be held on Sunday, March 24th and it is a 1,200m turf event at Chukyo Racecourse.

FIRST FORCE winning the Takamatsunomiya Kinen at Chukyo in Japan.
FIRST FORCE winning the Takamatsunomiya Kinen at Chukyo in Japan. Picture: Japan Racing Association

This Sunday, March 24, Chukyo course hosts the second big event of the year, the Takamatsunomiya Kinen, now in its 54th running. Some 23 horses have been nominated for a full gate open to 18 runners. Ten fillies/mares and two geldings are amid the nominees, with ages ranging from 4 to 8.

The 1,200-meter turf test, along with the Grade 1 Sprinters Stakes of the same distance in the autumn, are the two most important races in determining the year's top sprinter. The Takamatsunomiya Kinen, unlike the Sprinters Stakes held at Nakayama Racecourse, is run to the left.

This year, there's an added international touch, with the first foreign-based raider to appear in the race in six years, Hong Kong's Victor the Winner. In previous years, four horses from abroad (two from the U.S. and two from Hong Kong) have taken on the Takamatsunomiya Kinen. Hong Kong's Aerovelocity, in 2015, was the only one to capture the race.

Among the headliners of this year's field is Mama Cocha, who clinched the Sprinters Stakes last October. Her stellar performance, only her second over six furlongs, also brought her the honor of being named the JRA's Best Sprinter for 2023. She has got tough competition though, with the Sprinters Stakes runner-up Mad Cool and third-place finisher Namura Clair set to vie for the winner's prize of JPY170 million.

The Takamatsunomiya Kinen is Chukyo's No. 11 race on the Sunday card of 12. Post time is 15:40 locally.

Here are some of the field's likely favorites.

Namura Clair: A 5-year-old Mikki Isle mare, Namura Clair has proven highly consistent, only missing the Top 3 spots three times (the board only once) in her career of 16 starts. Second by a length here last year, the Ritto-based mare has failed to make the winner's circle in her six Grade 1 attempts thus far (three of them over 1,200 meters). She has four graded wins at the distance, with a second and third at the top level. She is primed and prepped with a second by a neck in the Grade 3 Kyoto Himba Stakes over 1,400 meters, which was preceded by her third in the Sprinters Stakes and a win of the Grade 3 Keeneland Cup over 1,200 meters at Sapporo. The wild upset last year due largely to the sloppy track, Namura Clair was the only one who remained true to expectations.With rain expected this year, this one is likely to stick with.

Toshin Macau: Toshin Macau was completely done in by the track condition last year and managed to beat only three runners over the line. This year the 5-year-old heads to the gate looking even more promising than he did last year as fifth pick. He has triumphed in both his last two starts, both Grade 3 events, both over 1,200 meters. He is just off a win of the Ocean Stakes at Nakayama, and had preceded that with a first place in the Keihan Hai at Kyoto at the end of November. With 2016 Takamatsunomiya Kinen winner Big Arthur as his sire, Toshin Macau has every reason to land his first big win. Trainer Mizuki Takayanagi commented: "The switch to Chukyo is not a plus, but I think if the ground isn't as bad as it was last year, he should be able to handle it. He has grown and added power, so I think he has a chance if things come together well for him."

Mama Cocha: The 5-year Kurofune-sired Mama Cocha, who won the JRA's Best Sprinter for 2023 and winner of last year's Sprinters Stakes, aims to haul in her second big win in only her second Grade 1 bid of her career. Last year, she headed to the Sprinters Stakes off a second in the Grade 3 Kitakyushu Kinen, with less than six weeks between races. This time, she hasn't raced in three months. but, with jockey Yuga Kawada, who rode her in last year's Sprinter Stakes expected up, Mama Cocha is in good hands and looking to become only the fourth horse (after BelieveCurren Chan and Lord Kanaloa) to win both the previous year's Sprinters Stakes and the Takamatsunomiya Kinen the following year. Assitant trainer Yuki Iwasaki said: "Her movement is much improved from her last race and I think we have a good chance here."

Lugal: The Duramente 4-year-old colt Lugal heads into his first top-level competition. Starting his career over dirt, he was moved to turf and has since finished consistently in the Top 3, with only one of his seven turf starts ending in fourth place. He has just won his first graded stakes competition, the Grade 3 Silk Road Stakes over 1,200 meters at Kyoto on Jan. 28. He has proven reliable racing to the left and is seen as a solid candidate, one capable of an upset over the more established racers. Trainer Haruki Sugiyama commented: "Two weeks ago, his fast work up the hill was very impressive. And last week, even with the ground bad, his footwork was almost too good. He is still a bit heavy but I think with one more workout he'll be ready."

So Dazzling: The 4-year-old filly So Dazzling is an interesting challenger heading into her first 1,200 meters race after winning the Grade 3 Kyoto Himba Stakes, which was already the shortest race of her eight career starts by a furlong. The drop in distance seems to suit her. Veteran Yutaka Take, who has ridden all but one of the filly's starts, is expected up. Assistant trainer Masanori Tanaka says Take's advice was part of the reason they've decided on shortening the distance yet again. "Every time we've shortened her race, she's given us good results. I think that the shorter distances make things easier for her."

Victor The Winner: Hong Kong's hopeful, the 6-year-old gelding Victor the Winner is an Australian-bred gelding by Toronado and trained by Danny Shum. Victor the Winner, who scored a fourth place in last year's Hong Kong Sprint has seven wins and two seconds from 14 starts and is coming off a win of the G1 Centenary Sprint Cup over 1,200 meters at Sha Tin at the end of January. He is to be ridden by his regular rider, the 35-year-old Derek Leung, a two-time Tony Cruz Award recipient who has won 459 races back home in Hong Kong. In addition to the usual rigors of an overseas trip, Victor the Winner has at last two further challenges to conquer on Sunday. He will be racing to the left for his first time and also facing the sharp hill starting just 350 meters before the finish line at Chukyo.

Mad Cool: The Irish-bred 5-year-old Mad Cool, next set off on his first overseas excursion after finishing second in last year's Sprinters Stakes, but only managed to land eighth place amid 10 runners in the Hong Kong Sprint. Highly consistent over the rest of his career, this son of Dark Angel definitely has ability. His only finishes out of the Top 3 were the Hong Kong Sprint and three starts ago, when he scored ninth over the Chukyo 1,200 meters in July but was later found to have been suffering from heat stroke. Trainer Manabu Ikezoe commented: "He's won three times at Chukyo. If the going is too fast, that will advantage some of the contenders, so I think it would be ideal for the ground to have some spring to it. I'm hoping he can race from a forward position."

Others to watch include:

Win Marvel finished 10th place here last year and second in the 2022 Sprinters Stakes, seems to be back in form. He is sailing into Chukyo on a two-race winning streak that landed him the Grade 2 Hanshin Cup and the Grade 3 Hankyu Hai, both over 1,400 meters at Hanshin. With heavier going expected Sunday, his performance over heavy ground last out may carry over to good results this time out. 

Just like Toshin Macau, the 4-year-old Big Caesar is also a son of Big Arthur, and takes on his first Grade 1 this time. He comes off a second in the Grade 3 Ocean Stakes that saw him gain ground impressively in the final stage. Proven at Chukyo with a win of an open-class race over 1,200 meters, Big Caesar should not be overlooked.

Japan Racing Association

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