Adrian Webber



Keiba Diary: It’s Tenno Sho week and the overseas riders are flying in

JRA broadcaster Adrian Webber takes a look at the latest happenings in Japan including Group 1 observations and a worrying trend for the industry.

After last weekend’s ‘classic’ action, this Sunday brings a clash of the generations in the G1 Autumn Tenno Sho and the race looks like a real cracker. The 2000-metre showpiece at Tokyo might not have the superstars it boasted last year when Efforia saw off Contrail and Gran Alegria, but the 15 likely runners and their riders are packing plenty of talent nonetheless.

This week brings the arrival in Japan of foreign jockeys on short-term licences and Cristian Demuro will step straight into the fray to ride last year’s Tokyo Yushun hero Shahryar in the big race – the colt’s first race since he disappointed at Royal Ascot in June – while Tom Marquand will be aboard the Yasutoshi Ikee-trained outsider Ablaze. 

Three-year-olds Equinox and Danon Beluga will be having their first runs since the G1 Tokyo Yushun in May – they placed second and fourth behind Do Deuce – while some of the older and more experienced runners will be happy to put the younger generation to the test. Jack d’Or and Panthalassa slugged it out to finish in that order in the G2 Sapporo Kinen last time and they could be at each other’s throats again as they love nothing more than to set a strong pace, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens when the cavalry get to charge at them in the homestretch. 


Jack D'Or wins the G2 Kinko Sho. (Photo by JRA)

The race before the Tenno Sho is the Perseus Stakes, where the American-bred Lemon Pop will be looking to further his reputation. The Godolphin-owned colt has shown plenty of fizz, winning his last three races in good style.

Looking back at last weekend, Ask Victor More won the final classic, the G1 Kikuka Sho, but Serifos nailed an eye-catching performance as well. He won the G2 Fuji Stakes by a neck, yet the narrow margin of victory did not entirely reflect the style of the win.


The Mitsu Nakauchida-trained colt was cruising behind the front rank until his rider Yusuke Fujioka angled into daylight and guided him home ‘hands and heels’. Serifos could next run in the G1 Mile Championship in November, where he’ll have to carry more weight, before possibly going to the Hong Kong Mile and on to Sydney next year for the Doncaster Mile, as reported by Asian Racing Report last week. 

Couldn't Ask for more

Ask Victor More came out a narrow winner of the Kikuka Sho, earning jockey Hironobu Tanabe just his third JRA Group 1 win. It was a close-run thing but Tanabe’s glance to the left just after the post meant more than the judge’s photo, and the jock took his mount straight to the winner’s box just outside the weighing room.

It was also a great triumph for the colt’s enterprising owner of the ‘Ask’ horses, Toshihiro Hirosaki, who explained recently how he became an owner. 

“I was at the races with a friend back in 1987, and the trainer of his horse enquired as to why I didn’t have any horses,” Hirosaki recalled. “It wasn’t long after when I bought my first horse for ¥8 million (US$54,000).” 

That horse was Ask Hero, and it gave him his first win in a newcomer race at Sapporo in 1989, beating out an American-bred horse, Dragon Rally, which cost ¥200 million (US$1.34 million). He thought it rather strange that his relatively cheap purchase could win against a very expensive horse. The rest, as they say, is history, with Hirosaki scoring his first Group 1 win with Let’s Go Donki in the G1 Oka Sho of 2015, and he then tasted further success the same year with Straight Girl winning the G1 Victoria Mile and later the G1 Sprinters Stakes. His prize mare also won the G1 Victoria Mile for a second time in 2016. 

As a breeder too, he has put Straight Girl to Frankel, and from that match has Ask Beat Luz, a colt that will make his debut next year. So the best laid plans have certainly gone well for the man who started the Ask Planning Centre consulting company back in 1973.

Straight Girl wins her second G1 Victoria Mile. (Photo by JRA)

Unstable situation

Trainer Makoto Saito, who heads up the Kanto (East Japan) area’s Japan Trainers’ Association, recently spoke out about the looming staff shortage the industry faces. Back in 2010, there were 450 applicants for the stable course at the horseracing school, but this year that figure has dropped to just 120. At that rate, by 2030, it may no longer be possible to operate a stable with 20 boxes and 12 staff. 

“It’s alright at the moment but five or ten years later it could be a different matter,” Saito explained. “We have to let people know about the work, and how the working environment has changed regarding the automation of things like exercise machines for the horses. Paid holidays are also now easier to take.” 

Competition for work for young people in different industries is increasing in Japan, and this is all compounded by the problem of the country’s declining birthrate.

Dates with destiny

The Win Racing Club recently announced that five-year-old mare Win Marilyn will run in the G1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Hanshin on November 13 and will be ridden by another of the incoming overseas riders, Damian Lane. 

Jockey Damian Lane gives his autograph to Japanese racing fans at Tokyo Racecourse. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit /Getty Images)

Triple Tiara heroine Daring Tact is also expected to be in the line-up, while the race will also have its first overseas runner for 11 years, with Ireland’s Magical Lagoon, this year’s G1 Irish Oaks winner, expected to touch down at Kansai International Airport on October 29, before transferring to Miki Horseland Park. 

British ace Ryan Moore will also arrive in Japan soon, and has already been booked to ride Salios in the G1 Mile Championship at Hanshin on November 20. He rode the horse to an impressive victory in the 2019 G1 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes, and predicted a big future for the horse at that time.



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