Spring Group 1 racing in Japan

Six weeks of Japanese spring Group 1 racing commenced with the Y325m, 153rd Tenno Sho (Spring) (3200m) at Kyoto on May 1st before a crowd of 79,028 and it produced a close finish won by the Hisashi Shimizu trained Kitasan Black (JPN) under Yutaka Take with a nose to last year's third place getter Curren Mirotic (JPN) and Cheval Grand (JPN) 1 3/4L away in third.

After his first Group 1 triumph in the Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger, 3,000m) last year, the Black Tide colt turned in a good third in the year-end Arima Kinen against top-graded older horses and also demonstrated a promising runner-up finish in his kick-off start of the season, the Sankei Osaka Hai (Group 2, 2,000m) last month.

This becomes trainer Hisashi Shimizu’s second Group 1 title since claiming the Kikuka Sho with the colt last year. Yutaka Take celebrates his seventh Tenno Sho (Spring) title, the last with Deep Impact in 2006, and has reached a milestone of 70 JRA-Group 1 wins with this victory extending the extraordinary record he himself holds. His most previous Group 1 win was in the 2015 February Stakes with Copano Rickey.

Breaking from the inner-most stall, Kitasan Black sprinted well to dash to the front with Yamanin Voielactee pressing the pace from his outside and 13th favorite Curren Mirotic in close pursuit right behind the leader in third.

As the field approached the last turn and with Yamanin Voielactee fading from his early efforts, Yutaka Take drove his mount down the straight and narrowly held off a determined challenge from the eight-year-old gelding of Heart’s Cry in a result of a 150m classic head-to-head duel, just by a whisker at the wire.

The winning time was 3.15.30 on the Firm rated track.

Toyko was the venue for the Y205.2m, 21st NHK Mile (1600m) for three-year-old colts and fillies on May 8th and it was the filly Major Emblem (JPN) who won leading from start to finish to become the fourth female runner to win the NHK Mile Cup—the last female winner was Pink Cameo in 2007.

Named Best Two-Year-Old Filly of 2015, the Daiwa Major filly commenced off her three-year-old campaign with an overwhelming victory in the Queen Cup but was unable to meet expectations when heavy favorite in the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) finishing fourth.

Trainer Yasuhito Tamura collected his second Group 1 title, the first also with the chestnut filly in the 2015 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies, while jockey, Christophe Lemaire marked his first Group 1 of this season and seventh overall with the win.

Major Emblem came out of the barriers smoothly this time and was allowed to set a brisk pace along the rails, maintaining a clear lead along the backstretch. While briefly challenged rounding the final turn, the powerful filly, unfazed by her male foes, showed no signs of slowing down, continued to pull away along the homestretch and managed to rebuff the late charging Lord Quest (JPN) (Matsurida Gogh) and Rainbow Line (JPN) (Stay Gold) with the margins 3/4-length and a neck.

The time was 1.32.8 on the Firm rated track.

The 11th Group 1 Victoria Mile (1600m) for fillies and mares was next at Tokyo on May 15th.

The race carries a first place prize of Y93m and boasts a total purse of over Y200m. It is open to qualifying participants from the local NAR circuits, as well as to foreign-based horses. This year’s line-up, however, was composed solely of JRA-registered horses.

Defending champion and seventh favourite Straight Girl coasted to a convincing victory to become the second mare to claim two Victoria Mile titles in a row, following Verxina in 2013 and 2014, and the first seven-year-old mare ever to capture a G1 title in JRA history.

The Fuji Kiseki mare landed another Group 1 win in the Sprinters Stakes last season after claiming the Victoria Mile and was scheduled to conclude her racing career after registering a ninth in the year-end Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint over 1200m at Sha Tin.

However the decision by her connections to postpone her retirement proved successful and she had been well prepped in her kick-off start of the season, the Hanshin Himba Stakes in April, where she was ninth.

Trainer Hideaki Fujiwara has now eight JRA-Group 1 titles in his pocket including three Victoria Mile titles—the first was in 2008 with Asian Winds—and jockey Keita Tosaki has now six. The Sprinters Stakes victory last year with the mare was the most recent JRA-G1 title for both of them.

Straight Girl swooped past her rivals 300 meters out increasing her lead stride by stride to clear the wire by a comfortable 2-1/2 lengths.

Race favourite Mikki Queen took a ground saving trip in mid-field and rounding the final corner she chased Straight Girl galloping on strongly in the last 200m to tag Smart Layer 100 meters out, and narrowly held off a fast closing 2015 Japan Cup victor Shonan Pandora at the wire to secure the runner-up seat.