HONG KONG RACING
EXPERT RATINGS, TIPS & ANALYSIS
The fan vote has gone Titleholder’s way but will blinkers ignite Efforia’s campaign in Sunday’s Takarazuka Kinen?
When Efforia won the Arima Kinen last December – after a record high fan vote of 260,742 demanded his participation – few could have foreseen the scenario in which the star colt would lose some of the burnish from his dazzling sheen within just six months and one further race.
Yet that is the situation as last season’s Horse of the Year – he also won the Satsuki Sho and Tenno Sho Autumn in 2021 – heads into the JRA’s other fan-voted grand prix race, Sunday’s Takarazuka Kinen, when he will wear blinkers for the first time.
The two great all-star races, the Takarazuka Kinen over 2000 metres and the Arima Kinen, over 2500 metres, are as big as it gets in Japanese racing and the strong fields are determined by public vote and then by prize money accrued.
This weekend’s contest features the Dubai winners Panthalassa and Stay Gold, as well as Saudi victor Authority, the French scorer Deep Bond and the 2020 Fillies’ Triple Crown heroine Daring Tact.
Fans appear to be split as to Efforia’s merits for this race following a deflating ninth first-up in the Osaka Hai in early April, a day when little went right and he finished more than four lengths behind the unheralded victor, Potager, who reopposes.
But while a cloud has hung over Efforia, his four-year-old peer, Titleholder, has been ascendent through the Japanese spring, extending his already eager fan base with two uplifting victories.
First came a narrow score in the Group Two Nikkei Sho and then a brilliant all-the-way seven-length demolition of Arima Kinen runner-up Deep Bond in the storied Tenno Sho Spring over two miles. Who doesn’t love a good stayer?
The buoyant Titleholder, third pick behind Efforia in the Arima Kinen voting six months ago, is the people’s choice this time with a record 191,394 of the 2,232,089 total votes submitted. Efforia was only 2,869 votes behind his rival in the poll, but back in December, he pulled 52,457 more Arima Kinen votes than Titleholder.
Popularity never won a horse race, though, and the star of last year’s three-year-old crop has shown signs in recent days that he retains the ability needed to bag a second all-star race. The 2200 metres this time should be ideal for a horse that has won Group One races at 2000 metres and 2500 metres.
Furthermore, the Efforia camp has stated in the Japanese press that the colt had a foot problem and was given time to recover after the Arima Kinen; he then did not enjoy the long journey from Miho to Hanshin for the Osaka Hai, and to top it all he hit his head in the starting gate.
“The flow of the race itself wasn’t helpful, so things didn’t really go his way,” the colt’s trainer Yuichi Shikato told the JRA media team. “He came back to the stable from Northern Farm Tenei on 2 June, and looks a lot tighter than he did before his break. This season is also better for him, and he’s shown enough in his work so far.”
Efforia appeared to come alive in his final fast work at Miho on Wednesday under race rider Takeshi Yokoyama but that came with the application of blinkers. The fact that connections have even considered him wearing the headgear on Sunday must raise a concern: when blinkers are applied, sometimes it is because they have been long in the planning, but then again, often they are a last resort.
Titleholder, meanwhile, is in the form of his life. But last year’s Kikuka Sho winner has faced Efforia three times – the Satsuki Sho, Tokyo Yushun and Arima Kinen – and each time he has finished around three lengths behind. He must prove his star quality at the shorter distance.
Efforia was brilliant last season but how he fares in the Takarazuka Kinen will signal if he is to be the real deal or simply another top-class three-year-old who failed to establish their champion credentials at four. A move to blinkers from his usual nose band is a concern but if they ignite his spark, the sky’s the limit.
EXPERT RATINGS, TIPS & ANALYSIS