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Japan’s sole runner at Keeneland this weekend will try to follow-up the heroics of Marche Lorraine and Loves Only You and strike another blow internationally for the JRA’s filly and mare division.
Chain Of Love breezed through her final fast work at Keeneland on Wednesday before the G1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint on Saturday provides an opportunity to test her merits against the best of her North American contemporaries.
After the heady, history-making victories of the tough mares Marche Lorraine and Loves Only You at last year’s event, Japan’s Breeders’ Cup interest is focused this time on one horse, but just like 12 months ago at Del Mar, it is the distaff division flying the flag.
Aside from the aforementioned heroines, Japanese mares have enjoyed notable successes globally in recent years: Gentildonna, Almond Eye, Lys Gracieux and Deirdre all have won Group 1s offshore.
Chain Of Love worked five furlongs midweek under her regular exercise rider Yoshi Nakata in preparation for what will be her last chance to join that elite group. She will remain in the US afterwards and become one of owner-breeder Koji Maeda’s Stateside broodmare band.
The five-year-old’s trainer, Michihiro Ogasa, was on hand to observe the morning hit out across the Keeneland dirt track and expressed his satisfaction with how his charge has progressed into Friday’s 1400-metre contest. Britain’s champion jockey William Buick will take the reins for the mare’s career finale.
“She trained really well this morning and I was happy with her action down the stretch,” Ogasa said.
The #BreedersCup love for Japanese racehorses continues! 💜🏇🇯🇵
Check out Chain of Love on the @keenelandracing track this morning, prepping for the #BC22 Filly & Mare Sprint. @HorseRacing_JPN @JRA_WorldRacing pic.twitter.com/1SiN05N6as
— Breeders' Cup (@BreedersCup) November 2, 2022
The trainer, 51, is a lesser light on the JRA circuit and, like his mare, is seeking a first Group 1 success. He sent out his first runners in 2006 and his best season to date was in 2010 when he welcomed 25 winners; among his five Group 3 wins are two for the stamina-laden steeplechaser Turbo, an Orfvere half-brother to Chain Of Love.
The North Hills homebred herself is no stranger to travel. With limited opportunities for a female Group-class dirt track sprinter at home, Ogasa took Chain Of Love to Saudi Arabia in February for third in the G3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint, then on to Meydan where one month later she placed fourth in the G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen.
Both of those outings were over 1200 metres, as was her next when third in a minor stakes event at Chukyo. But last time, at that same venue, she saw off the boys to win the Listed Enfi Stakes over 1400 metres. That, it seems, is the most suitable trip for a horse that as a three-year-old was in fact only two and a half lengths off the winner when sixth in the G1 Japanese Oaks over a mile and a half.
The daughter of Heart’s Cry has drawn gate six and her trainer believes that is a good spot for the late-closer to break from: far enough out to avoid getting boxed on the fence; far enough in to not have to cover too much extra ground.
Loves Only You with Yuga Kawada riding, winning the 2021 Breeders Cup Filly & Mare Turf. (Photo by Horsephotos/Getty Images)
Chain Of Love arrived in the US on October 25, via Chicago where she spent 48 hours in quarantine. During that time, alone in her box, with no other horse in sight, she was not quite herself. Connections noted that she ate her food, but not quite every scrap and not with her usual relish, her ears were back: she was lonely.
But a remedy was soon apparent. On October 27 she vanned down to Keeneland for a 5:30am arrival and was given an easy time that day, being only hand walked as planned. Her isolation barn, located at the top of the hill, is across from the barns of local trainer Vickie Oliver; a plan was hatched, and with US Department of Agriculture approval, Oliver’s gelding Zellweger was moved to the next-but-one box.
With a new friend to keep her company, Chain Of Love munched down her feed and quickly thrived again.
“Her condition is obviously improving each day with it likely peaking on race day,” Ogasa said. “She seems to have travelled quite well.”
Chain of Love’s hard fitness work was already completed at Miho before departure and her routine in Kentucky has been to hack a couple of laps on the training track then canter around the dirt track. On Tuesday she was gate schooled and was signed off, no problem. After her Wednesday breeze, the plan was for today to be a rest day and on Friday back to the routine.
Come race time, Chain Of Love will get a rare chance to take on her own gender in a dirt track sprint without the boys getting in the way.
“Now it is all up to her and Buick on Saturday,” Ogasa added.
She might be double-figure odds, but history shows you can’t write-off a Japanese mare.
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