Asian Racehorse Rankings

by Asian Racing Report


Welcome to the first edition of Asian Racing Report’s Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) Rankings

Just as we have done with this year’s Hong Kong Derby, we have set our panel of Asian racing experts the task of ranking this year’s equivalent Japanese cohort on an ongoing basis, as the country’s best three-year-olds work towards Tokyo’s famous 2400 metre Classic. 

Our opening iteration of Derby rankings has been timed to coincide with one of the season’s first minor Tokyo Yushun ‘stepping stones’, Sunday’s G2 Yayoi Sho, which features the return of last year’s narrow G1 Hopeful Stakes runner-up Top Knife. 

Perhaps the most coveted jewel in Japan’s turf crown, the Tokyo Yushun is the world’s richest Derby and has been won by many of the country’s most celebrated horses, chief among them the great Deep Impact in 2005.  

This year’s G1 Tokyo Yushun will be run on May 28 as the middle leg of the colts Triple Crown, bookended by the G1 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) on April 16 and the G1 Kikuka Sho (Japanese St Leger) on October 22. 

Other lead-up races of note include the G2 New Zealand Trophy in April and May’s G3 Mainichi Hai, won by Shahryar in 2021 on his way to Derby glory.  

Though earlier described as the ‘colts Triple Crown’, the Tokyo Yushun is of course not exclusive to male horses, with Vodka becoming the first filly to win the race in 2007. 

Our expert panel’s top 18 Derby horses for 2023 does in fact include a filly, last season’s dominant G1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies winner Liberty Island, but it is still yet to be seen if the daughter of top Australian racemare Yankee Rose will take on the boys in place of the more traditional fillies path, the Triple Tiara.

We run the rule over the top 18 as currently ranked by our panel: 

1. Dolce More ドルチェモア

Trainer: Naosuke Sugai
Owner: Three H Racing Co. Ltd.
Sire: Rulership

Prepared by master trainer Naosuke Sugai, Dolce More earned top-billing through an undefeated two-year-old campaign in which he went three from three, culminating in a raw but impressive performance in the G1 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes. Settled just off the speed by Ryusei Sakai, the 3.1 favourite Dolce More lengthened strongly when asked to stave off the late challenge of the other market elect, Danon Touchdown. Out of Deep Impact mare Ayusan – herself a G1 winning three-year-old who claimed the 2013 Oka Sho – Dolce More will seek to extend his unbeaten record into the new season where he is expected to kick off his campaign in the G2 New Zealand Trophy. Yet to be tested beyond a mile. 

2. Sol Oriens ソールオリエンス

Trainer: Takahisa Tezuka
Owner: Shadai Race Horse Co. Ltd.
Sire: Kitasan Black

Sol Oriens’ distance potential was on full display when he charged to victory in the 2000m G3 Keisei Hai at just his second start, with jockey Takeshi Yokoyama forecasting further mental and physical improvement. Despite hampering other runners with an erratic performance in the straight, Sol Oriens was too good at Nakayama and is in a stable known for producing top-shelf performers such as Win Marilyn. His dam Skia has also produced the G2 Fuji Stakes winner Vin de Garde, who contested last week’s $20 million Saudi Cup. 

3. Phantom Thief ファントムシーフ

Trainer: Masayuki Nishimura
Owner: Turf Sport Co. Ltd.
Sire: Harbinger

Beaten into a somewhat unlucky fourth when the 5.1 second favourite in last season’s G1 Hopeful Stakes (2000m), Phantom Thief bounced back at his first outing as a three-year-old when winning the 1800m G3 Kyodo News Hai in good style in February. That event has proven a good Classic form reference in recent seasons, with past winners including Gold Ship and Horse of the Year Efforia. After the Kyodo News Hai jockey Christophe Lemaire forecast that longer distances were unlikely to trouble the son of King George VI winner Harbinger.

4. Hrimfaxi フリームファクシ

Trainer: Naosuke Sugai
Owner: Kaneko Makoto Holdings Co. Ltd.
Sire: Rulership

Hrimfaxi has entered the Tokyo Yushun frame after three consecutive victories, culminating in a narrow but determined win in the G3 Kisaragi Sho at Chukyo. A half-brother to the globetrotting G1 Nassau Stakes winner and Shuka Sho heroine Deirdre, the heavily fancied 1.3 favourite Hrimfaxi had just enough in the tank to deny the late bid of Open Fire over the 2000 metre trip. Jockey Yuga Kawada spoke of the horse’s Group 1 potential after the race, with the caveat that Hrimfaxi’s raceday manners would likely have to improve to achieve success at the highest level. 

5. Dura Erede ドゥラエレーデ

Trainer: Manabu Ikezoe
Owner: Three H Racing Co. Ltd.
Sire: Duramente

A shock 90-1 winner of the G1 Hopeful Stakes as a two-year-old, Dura Erede boasts a big pedigree being by the ill-fated star stallion Duramente out of a half-sister to Kikuka Sho and Arima Kinen winner Satono Diamond. The finish of that Hopeful Stakes was fought out by the first two in running, Dura Erede and another double-figure chance in Top Knife, so there is some query on the strength of that result going forward. A Tokyo Yushun campaign for Dura Erede has also been complicated by the colt’s likely participation in the UAE Derby, won last year by Japan’s Crown Pride, after reportedly accepting an invitation from Dubai. 

6. Danon The Tiger ダノンザタイガー

Trainer: Sakae Kunieda
Owner: Danox Co. Ltd.
Sire: Heart’s Cry

A 297 million yen (US$2.17m) purchase at the 2020 Select Sale, Danon The Tiger has had a big boom on him from the outset but hasn’t quite lived up to his price tag… yet. Concluding last season with an encouraging second behind Gastrique in the G2 Tokyo Sports Hai Nisai Stakes, Danon The Tiger was the unlucky runner when placed third in this season’s G3 Kyodo News Hai when unable to obtain clear galloping room for much of the straight. Turning the tables on winner Phantom Thief may well have been achievable with a friendlier run in transit, and the Tokyo Yushun has long loomed as a target race for this colt.

7. Open Fire オープンファイア

Trainer: Takashi Saito
Owner: Yuji Hasegawa
Sire: Deep Impact

If Hrimfaxi has Derby suitors then Open Fire must also come right into calculations after pushing that colt to the limit in the G3 Kisaragi Sho. Himself the top purchase at the 2021 Select Sale when fetching 300 million yen (US$2.2m), the Deep Impact colt has been around the mark in all three starts to date, including that eye-catching late close at Chukyo. Capable of running slick closing sectionals, this colt’s talent looks evident with further improvement to come. 

8. King’s Reign キングズレイン

Trainer: Takahisa Tezuka
Owner: Sunday Racing
Sire: Rulership

The eye-catcher in last year’s G1 Hopeful Stakes when rattling home out wide off a muddling pace, King’s Reign looks every bit a Derby horse as yet another prospect by Japan Cup placegetter Rulership. Out of the classy Deep Impact racemare Touching Speech, King’s Reign looks another with the scope to turn the tables on some of his rivals as he stretches out in trip.

9. Chance the Roses チャンスザローゼス

Trainer: Mitsumasa Nakauchida
Owner: Susumu Fujita
Sire: Epiphaneia

While some Derby aspirants have served notice of their staying potential by closing off strongly from back in the pack, Chance the Roses has demonstrated his ability via some strong on-pace efforts. The son of Epiphaneia was particularly impressive in winning last year’s Listed 1800m Ivy Stakes by two-lengths from the front for Yuga Kawada, with Open Fire among the beaten brigade. A very interesting prospect from the top Nakauchida yard for big-spending owner of Uma Musume fame, Susumu Fujita.

10. Liberty Island リバティアイランド

Trainer: Mitsumasa Nakauchida
Owner: Sunday Racing Co. Ltd.
Sire: Duramente

Again saddled up by Nakauchida, this girl boasts the fastest final 600 metre sectional ever recorded in the JRA – not bad going for a then two-year-old filly! Liberty Island produced that clock-breaking 31.4 second finale on debut in a Niigata Newcomer but it proved no fluke, concluding her two-year-old year with victory in the G1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies. One of the most intriguing three-year-olds of 2023, will she tackle the males or stick to the traditional fillies route?

11. Top Knife トップナイフ

Trainer: Mitsugu Kon
Owner: Koji Yasuhara
Sire: Declaration Of War

One of the more experienced contenders with seven career starts already under his belt, Top Knife’s career-best so far came when grinding away on the speed for a narrow G1 Hopeful Stakes defeat to Dura Erede. Set to resume in Sunday’s G2 Yayoi Sho but will need to show an extra level this season to break into the pointy end of the rankings.

12. Meiner Laulea マイネルラウレア

Trainer: Toru Miya
Owner: Thoroughbred Club Ruffian Co. Ltd.
Sire: Gold Ship

Meiner Laulea hasn’t just inherited his sire’s talent, but a fair portion of Gold Ship’s trademark ‘unruly streak’ too. The reportedly headstrong colt has won both career starts to date, including the Listed Wakagoma Stakes (2000m) at Chukyo, when charging late to just nab One Direct on the wire. A slated Yayoi Sho resumption was aborted due to a minor hoof injury, so Toru Miya will have to pick an alternative path to the Derby.

13. Danon Touchdown ダノンタッチダウン

Trainer: Takayuki Yasuda
Owner: Danox Co. Ltd.
Sire: Lord Kanaloa

Danon Touchdown has competed with distinction in all three career starts at the mile, including an unlucky second in Dolce More’s G1 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes when held up in the straight. The son of Lord Kanaloa may not have the pedigree to carry him to a strong 2,400 metres however, but does look to have the ability to be a star miler at the very least.

14. Touch Wood タッチウッド

Trainer: Koshiro Take
Owner: Kazumi Yoshida
Sire: Duramente

Another who has impressed with limited exposure to date, the hulking 520-plus kilogram Touch Wood dominated on debut with a six length win at Hanshin last November before running second to Phantom Thief at his only other career start in the Kyodo News Hai. The son of Duramente is prepared by Koshiro Take, brother of legendary jockey Yutaka. 

15. Seven Magician セブンマジシャン

Trainer: Tomokazu Takano
Owner: Yoshiyuki Maesako
Sire: Just A Way

A winner of his first two starts, Just A Way colt Seven Magician was sixth in the G1 Hopeful Stakes before finishing third behind Sol Oriens in the Keisei Hai. Was hampered by the wayward winner but did pick up again to close-off nicely.

16. Gastrique ガストリック

Trainer: Hiroyuki Uehara
Owner: Koji Maeda
Sire: Just A Way

Boasts a win over Danon The Tiger and Dura Erede when finished powerfully to take out the G2 Tokyo Sports Hai Nikai Stakes last November. Never really made up ground from the tail of the field when right in the market in the G1 Hopeful Stakes, but happy to forgive that run given the tempo.

17. Skilfing スキルヴィング

Trainer: Tetsuya Kimura
Owner: Carrot Farm Co. Ltd.
Sire: Kitasan Black

This son of Kitasan Black could well prove more of a grinding Kikuka Sho (3000m) contender, but did impress in producing a long sustained sprint to take out an allowance race by three lengths over the Derby course on February 5.

18. Hearts Concerto ハーツコンチェルト

Trainer: Ryo Takei
Owner: Green Farm Co. Ltd.
Sire: Heart’s Cry

Another who wasn’t disgraced in the messy G1 Hopeful Stakes and did manage to make up some decent ground in traffic along the rail. Was beaten into third as the 1.8 favourite in Gastrique’s Tokyo Sports Hai Nisai Stakes but did hit the line well out wide.