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Keiba Diary: Gentildonna’s girl gatecrashes the show, big weekend ahead

JRA broadcaster Adrian Webber unpacks all the latest happenings in Japanese racing, as eyes turn to Longchamp and Nakayama.

There is a big weekend of Japanese action to look forward to in Europe and at home with the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and Sprinters Stakes sharing the Group 1 spotlight, but looking back, last weekend’s Group 2 action in Japan produced two exciting winners with top-level aspirations. 

Neither the All Comers at Nakayama nor the Kobe Shimbun Hai at Chukyo went the way of the market leaders as Gentildonna’s daughter Geraldina won the former at odds a shade bigger than 18-1 and Justin Palace took the latter as a 10-1 chance. Both were impressive.

Past Triple Tiara heroine Daring Tact was the beaten favourite in the All Comers over 2200 metres and could only finish sixth. Plans are on hold for her but the G1 Autumn Tenno Sho beckons for Geraldina who stunned her rivals with a late burst of speed under a great ride by Takeshi Yokoyama. The jockey settled the powerful four-year-old in a railside tracking position before shifting out late and galloping on by. 

 

After the victory, Yokoyama said, “She’s taken a bit of time to get this result. It was my first time to ride her, so I wasn’t sure how she might handle the distance and the pace, but she did it very well, and was impressive at the end going through the narrow gaps we had.” Earlier in the weekend, Yokoyama scored his 400th JRA career win, and his 100th of this year.

Meanwhile, at Chukyo, the Kobe Shimbun Hai went the way of Justin Palace, who powered home down the straight to leave the more fancied runners flat-footed, including the well-regarded favourite Parallel Vision who was well back in seventh. 

It was another first time ride for jockey Katsuma Sameshima, who found it hard to hide the satisfaction he got from the three and a half-length win. “I’d ridden the horse quite a lot in work recently, including during gate practice. The stable staff gave me confidence and things went according to plan. He got a good early position in the race and showed a strong turn of foot on the run for home.” Justin Palace looks to have a future after this performance.

The Ritto rounds

The Ritto Training Centre is one of two JRA training bases along with Miho. Ritto, located in the west (Miho is east of Tokyo), is home to some 2,000 horses, and about 100 trainers have their stables there. The thoroughbreds are often sent to training farms after their races as trainers are only allowed a limited number of horses in training at their designated stables at any one time. But it’s to Ritto (or Miho) and their trainers that they return, usually about a month before their next race, in order to reach peak fitness again. 

Two of Japan’s leading trainers, Naosuke Sugai and Takayuki Yasuda, are based at Ritto. Sugai’s ‘superstar’ filly Sodashi recently returned to her stable and worked with a two-year-old stablemate on the centre’s woodchip course. She seemed relaxed and picked up well to cover the last two furlongs in 23.2 seconds.

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Sodashi wins the G1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies. (Photo by Shuhei Okada)

Her next race should be the G2 Fuchu Himba Stakes on October 15. Yasuda had a couple of exciting two-year-olds out on the training track as well and both took their gate tests. Cadency Mark is a filly by Lord Kanaloa, and Travolgente is a colt by the same sire. Both horses were bred at Northern Farm and the trainer is looking forward to these two making their debuts.

Ono's back from France

JRA jockey Takuya Ono, 36, recently returned from a spell in France where he ventured to experience a new challenge. He left Japan in early June and returned at the end of August. While there, he was supported by two Japanese trainers based at Chantilly, Hiroo Shimizu and Satoshi Kobayashi (both of whom are hosting Japan’s Arc contenders this week), and had two wins from a total of 26 rides, riding at a number of different tracks. 

“I wanted to try out things in a different culture and a different place, so it was good to experience riding in another country,” he explained. “It wasn’t always easy, as I had to get used to things being different from Japan. The racetracks in particular are all quite unique, with their different layouts, and uphill and downhill sections.” 

The jockey’s most famous win in Japan was the G1 Sprinters Stakes, when it was held at Niigata in 2014, which he won on Snow Dragon at odds of 45/1.

Sprinters ready to fire

The G1 Sprinters Stakes is coming up this weekend at Nakayama, and Meikei Yell (her unpredictability has already been well documented by Asian Racing Report) will most likely be sent off favourite after her win in record time in the Centaur Stakes a couple of weeks ago.

One or two of the other leading contenders aren’t exactly rock solid options so that makes her the obvious choice despite her quirks. The German-bred Schnell Meister is dropping down to 1200 metres for the first time and the Nakayama track, with its steep rise to the finish, is a concern for Yoshitada Munakata, the trainer of G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen winner Naran Huleg. 

Meikei Yell, talented but tricky. (Photo by Shuhei Okada)

Schnell Meister narrowly claims the G2 Mainichi Okan in 2021. (Photo by JRA)

If anything can go wrong, though, it’s likely to be in a sprint race, so there will be a bit of pressure on the favourite, even though the word is she’s more mature and a lot calmer now. We’ll only know about that for sure come race time.

After the Sprinters Stakes is done and dusted, Japan will have yet another crack at the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Four Japanese horses take on the race, with probably Titleholder and Do Deuce having the best chance to deliver an historic win, but let’s not write off Stay Foolish or Deep Bond either. It seems written in the stars that there’s probably a European horse just that little bit better on the day, but, then again, a Japanese Arc win has to happen one day, doesn’t it? Here’s hoping it’s this Sunday.

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