Adrian Webber



Keiba Diary: Kikuka Sho provides a classic puzzle

A look at an intriguing G1 Kikuka Sho, the retirement of two dirt stars and a date for the re-opening of Kyoto Racecourse all form part of this week's Keiba Diary.

After Stars On Earth’s somewhat unlucky defeat in last weekend’s Shuka Sho downed her Triple Tiara attempt, there will be no ‘Triple’ anything from the classic crop this year. The last piece of the jigsaw puzzle for this year’s Triple Crown races will be put in place at Hanshin on Sunday when a full field of 18 is likely to contest the G1 Kikuka Sho, the Japanese St Leger, but the Triple Crown dream perished in May when the G1 Satsuki Sho victor Geoglyph was beaten in the G1 Tokyo Yushun behind Do Deuce.

Neither of those classic-winning colts will contest the season’s final classic, with both being aimed instead at other races this autumn: Do Deuce, bogged down in the Arc at Longchamp two and a half weeks ago, is aiming to notch a famous win in the G1 Japan Cup next month. The stage is therefore set for another colt to grab the headlines.

The G2 St. Lite Kinen winner Gaia Force is the big improver, and the striking grey by Kitasan Black – the 2015 Kikuka Sho hero – won’t be a big price on the day.


Ask Victor More was a head behind Gaia Force in the St. Lite Kinen but he has the pick of the classic form, having finished third in the Tokyo Yushun, and he likes nothing more than to be up with the pace, fighting out a final furlong finish. Justin Palace is open to further improvement after his impressive win in the G2 Kobe Shimbun Hai last time. And trainer Teruhiko Chida will be relying on the ‘Kikuka Sho otoko’, Yutaka Take, to use his great skill and experience to guide Yamanin Zest through the 3000-metre contest. Take has won the race a record five times, including aboard the great Triple Crown winner, Deep Impact.

Xenoverse on the rise

Deep Impact was responsible for last weekend’s J-G2 Tokyo High Jump winner, just to remind everyone of the late phenomenon’s versatility as a stallion. His five-year-old son Xenoverse, bred at Paca Paca Farm, is typical of all-Japanese jumps horses, being a flat runner turned jumper, and he put in a great performance to beat the in-from Hokko Mevius by two lengths.

After the first two home, there was officially a ‘distance’ back to the next horse, and the old fella Oju Chosan could only manage ninth. The 11-year-old is Japan’s greatest steeplechaser but age is catching up and after his laboured ninth, connections announced that he will retire after December’s G1 Nakayama Daishogai, which he has won three times previously.

That same afternoon, another of Japan’s most popular horses, the all-white Sodashi, was nutted out right on the line in the G2 Ireland Trophy Fuchu Himba Stakes. Yasunari Iwata’s ‘flailing limbs’ action in a finish was enough to get Izu Jo no Kiseki up to win, and earned him a big bear hug from owner Ichiro Izumi. And Stunning Rose lived up to her name in the G1 Shuka Sho at the expense of Stars On Earth, giving jockey Ryusei Sakai his first JRA Group 1 win, which he thoroughly deserves as one of the best young jockeys in Japan right now.

Off to greener pastures

Last week saw the retirement of two of Japan’s top performers in dirt races. Arctos, who made the Mile Championship Nambu Hai (Jpn1) his own race, winning it twice in consecutive years and setting the record time of 1 minute 32.7 seconds for the race in 2020. Owner Koichiro Yamaguchi couldn’t praise the horse enough: “Arctos was going for a third win in the Mile Championship Nambu Hai this year, but with his age and a layoff of eight months, he wasn’t able to do it. He’s been a great horse for me, but we’ll retire him now.” 


Chuwa Wizard takes out the 2020 Champions Cup. (Photo by JRA)

The 2020 G1 Champions Cup winner Chuwa Wizard’s retirement was also announced last week, and his second and third place finishes in the Dubai World Cup in 2021 and 2022 will always be remembered. Trainer Ryuji Okubo commented: “He always tried his best, and it was a pity he never went to Dubai as a five-year-old, due to the coronavirus.” Both horses will stand at the Yushun Stallion Station in Hokkaido.

Wada’s valet keeps things smooth

Sakiko Iwata is now in her 17th year as a jockey’s valet and she takes great pride in doing her best to make everything as smooth as possible for the jockeys she works with, from preparing the saddle with whatever weights are necessary, to collecting the whip and other tack after a race. “I want everything to go smoothly for the jockeys, and things need to be positive at all times rather than negative. It’s said that if a jockey wins the first race, the same saddle could be lucky for him winning the main race,” she says. 

One of the jockeys she looks after is Ryuji Wada, and he’s quite meticulous about his riding breeches, apparently. On wet days, when they get covered in mud, Iwata has to wash them with strong detergent, then put them in a washing machine before drying them. “A few years ago, Ryuji bought an iron, so now I have to iron them as well and it gives me extra work, but, like I say, I do want things to go smoothly for the riders,” she added. The well-turned out Ryuji Wada has just reached his 20,000th ride in JRA races, with 1,428 wins, so it’s well worth keeping up appearances.

Kyoto Racecourse re-opening announced

After closing its doors for renovation in November 2020, the JRA has announced the date of the re-opening of Kyoto racecourse, home to a number of Group 1 races. The track will hold its first meeting on April 22, 2023, and the G1 Spring Tenno Sho will be run the following weekend on April 30. The big Group 1 autumn races, the Shuka Sho, Kikuka Sho, Queen Elizabeth II Cup and Mile Championship, will also be back at their traditional venue next year after being homed temporarily at Hanshin and Chukyo. The racecourse, the premier track in western Japan, was built in 1924 and its renovation has been completed in time to celebrate its centenary year. Here’s to another hundred. 



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