Praise must also be given to the calm and collected Yuga Kawada, who’s proved himself to be a world-class jockey, as could be seen with his timed-to-perfection ride on Ushba Tesoro.
Rounding out Japan’s hat-trick of wins at the big meeting was Derma Sotogake in the UAE Derby, another stroll in the park for Christophe Lemaire, and the colt looks like he’s headed to Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby.
Show of Force
Back in Japan, last Sunday’s dismal weather was probably only appreciated by the winner of the G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen, First Force, a son of the great Lord Kanaloa. The seven-year-old took most people by surprise as he fought off the challenge of Namura Clair and went on to give jockey Taisei Danno and trainer Masayuki Nishimura their first Group 1 titles. Meikei Yell couldn’t come up with the goods again and her trip to Hong Kong for the G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize is perhaps in doubt.
Also at the weekend, Titleholder came back, Phoenix-like, to trounce his rivals, including Ask Victor More, by winning the G2 Nikkei Sho by an authoritative eight lengths, and that victory sets him on the path once more to the G1 Tenno Sho (Spring), which he won so impressively last year.
Remember the name
There are plenty of good young jockeys coming through the ranks in Japan, but one whose name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue is Katsuma Sameshima from Saga Prefecture in the south-west of the country. Now in his ninth year of riding with the JRA, he’s starting to be in demand, as could be seen with his 18 rides last weekend which produced three winners.
He was hoping for a Group 1 success on Toshin Macau last Sunday to bring him in line with other young riders he spent time with at the horse racing school, namely Ryusei Sakai, Kiwamu Ogino and Yukito Ishikawa, all Group 1 winners in their own right. It wasn’t to be with Toshin Macau not handling the wet ground, so the closest he’s come to a big win remains Air Spinel’s second place finish in the 2021 G1 February Stakes. Still, let’s not forget the name as it’s surely just a matter of time before the 26-year-old snags his first Group 1.
On the run in Hokkaido
Two-year-olds scheduled to race in ‘Hokkaido keiba’ have been put through their paces recently at the NAR’s Mombetsu track in Hidaka-cho, Hokkaido. The youngsters have been schooled since March 16 and are given tests in entering the stalls, their behaviour in the gates, and their ability to run well enough to complete 800-metre races within 57 seconds.
The weather in Hokkaido is always another challenge to overcome and the amount of rain this month has led to the ground not being at its best, but changing the sand on the course has made things better. Consequently all 120 horses have passed their tests (with no cheat notes), and a colt by Majestic Warrior even posted a time of 49.1 seconds.
Perhaps some of the elite ‘students’ will eventually make it to JRA races, but in the meantime their early freshman year will begin on April 19 at Mombetsu, when the Hokkaido season begins, and they’ll have 82 race days through till November, all night meetings, to shape their futures.
Next couple of weeks
Looking ahead to this week’s racing in Japan, the main course is undoubtedly the G1 Osaka Hai at Hanshin on Sunday. The 2000 metre, all-age contest sees the return of Stars On Earth, last year’s Best Three-Year-Old Filly. She might be brought down to earth though with a host of other stars taking on the race: trainer Yasutoshi Ikee’s Weltreisende can’t be far off a Group 1 win, Hishi Iguazu seems to be improving with age, Geraldina will have plenty of support after finishing third to Equinox last time, and even that naughty boy Danon The Kid promises much if he can behave himself this time.