Adrian Webber



Keiba Diary: Japan’s stars are all set for Dubai and the Takamatsunomiya Kinen

This week we have crash helmets and flying taxis as Adrian Webber rounds up what’s been happening in Japan and looks ahead to the JRA’s first Group 1 of the year.

It’s a case of masks off, helmets on as a new ‘rule’ in Japan obliging cyclists to wear helmets from April comes into effect. Second-year apprentice Taiga Tsunoda was recently made the one-day chief of police at the Naniwa Police Station in west Japan, where he stressed the importance of safety when it comes to protecting the head. But last week also saw the testing of piloted flying taxis ahead of Expo 2025, and that seems like another reason to be wearing crash helmets.

Flying taxis might seem like a wild ride but on Sunday we have the helter-skelter six furlong dash of the G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen, where a number of Japan’s top sprinters clash for the honours in this year’s first top-level sprint. Pixie Knight makes his long-awaited comeback in what will be a tough field.

Also in the mix are the mercurial Meikei Yell (don’t shout she might get upset), the classy Namura Clair and Vento Voce, and Grenadier Guards will be tried over the trip for just the third time. It could well be a full field of 18 runners, so it’s anybody’s guess, but perhaps Namura Clair’s one run, one win profile at Chukyo, as well as the 2kg filly’s allowance, puts her in with a good enough chance.

Asking for More

The other big race this week is Saturday’s G2 Nikkei Sho at Nakayama, when last year’s G1 Kikuka Sho winner Ask Victor More steps out for his first run of the year. Trainer Yasuhito Tamura visited him at the farm a while ago and noted how the horse looked much bigger.

“He’s certainly developed a lot and is probably about 20 kilograms heavier. He looks well in his coat and is more mature now,” the trainer said. 

It all bodes well for Ask Victor More who defeated last Sunday’s G2 Hanshin Daishoten winner Justin Palace impressively the last time he ran. Titleholder, the standout older horse last spring, also lines up in this Saturday’s race and will be looking to bounce back with a big run too after fading out in the wet ground Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, then failing to fire in the Arima Kinen.


Ask Victor More defeats Boldog Hos in the G1 Kikuka Sho. (Photo by JRA)

Date for the Opera

There could well be a few more arias to come from emerging colt Bellagio Opera after his win in last Sunday’s G2 Spring Stakes gives him automatic entry to the G1 Satsuki Sho in April. Jockey Takeshi Yokoyama is well aware of the horse’s ability as that was his second win on the Lord Kanaloa colt, and Bellagio Opera is now unbeaten in three starts. 

In other news on the first colts’ Classic, Meiner Laulea will now head straight to the race with his new jockey Keita Tosaki, while Danon The Tiger remains in his cage, and it looks like things are taking time with him so the Aoba Sho in April (after the Satsuki Sho) could be his next target.

Hats off to Yahagi

There’s a lot of attention on Dubai this week thanks to a big Japanese contingent over there in the desert, including trainer Yoshito Yahagi’s incredible Panthalassa who will be looking to clinch victory in the G1 Dubai World Cup.

Yoshito Yahagi is eyeing off more Dubai success. (Photo by Tattersalls)

That would give the handler his best ever belated birthday present – it was earlier this week – but an early celebration came when the trainer reached his 800th success in JRA races just recently and so became the 40th trainer in history to do so.

The master trainer opened his stable in 2005 and in 2008 he became the quickest to achieve (at that time) his first 100 winners. 

Daughter lends a helping hand

Meisho Onite won the final race at Himeji last Wednesday to give the 20-year-old third-season jockey Manami Nagashima a memorable win. The horse was trained by her father, Taro. 

“It wasn’t such a big race, but it was like a dream for me for this to happen,” said the happy trainer. Not even a two-day suspension for Manami in race ten could take the gloss off the family achievement.

Meanwhile, it took 18-year-old Nana Kawaharada 25 rides to get off the mark since making her debut earlier this month, but all went right for her on T O Solennel in the eighth race at Chukyo on Sunday. The horse led all the way and there was never a worry for the female rider from Osaka. 

“Carrying four kilos less was a help, and it felt great to be congratulated by the other jockeys after the finish line,” Kawaharada said after her landmark victory.

Big Red family

Uberleben, 2021 Yushun Himba (Oaks) winner, has arrived at Big Red Farm in Hokkaido to take up broodmare duties and the farm’s president, Hirokazu Okada, gave her a big welcome. 

“She proved herself as a racehorse and I want to thank her. In this first year she’ll be put to Benbatl and I hope she’ll prove a good quality broodmare,” explained Okada. 

Uberleben wins the 2021 Yushun Himba. (Photo by JRA)

As the third generation offspring of the stud’s Meine Pretender, Uberleben becomes a part of the ‘Big Red Farm family’ which also includes the brilliant but wayward grey stallion Gold Ship. That could easily be another reason for having a crash helmet at the ready.




    Subscribe now & get exclusive weekly content from Asian Racing Report direct to your inbox

      Expert ratings, tips & analysis for Hong Kong racing