Adrian Webber



Keiba Diary: Liberty Island in the Oka Sho spotlight

Adrian Webber has the latest happenings around the JRA from Classic musings to Kawada’s continuing hot streak, to the Ho O man’s Group 1 ambitions.

April Fools’ weekend came and went, and there didn’t appear to be any tricks during any of the 48 races at the JRA’s Hanshin and Nakayama fixtures to warrant an April Fool tag. Mind you, punters might have been scratching their heads a bit after T O Sirius ran away with the Miho Stakes at Nakayama on Sunday, but the big-striding five-year-old just kept finding more, and, at odds of 60/1, he certainly made fools out of those who thought he would come back to the field and capitulate. 

A man who’s certainly nobody’s fool is jockey Yuga Kawada, who added another five winners to his season’s tally at the weekend, although he couldn’t get the big Group 1 prize on Weltreisende. The reigning champion jockey now has a nice cushion of eight wins over Christophe Lemaire, who is currently second in the rankings.

All right, Jack

The G1 Osaka Hai in fact confirmed what connections of Jack d’Or have been thinking for some time, that the striking chestnut was a Group 1 winner in the making. The five-year-old son of Maurice was given a great ride by the maestro himself, Yutaka Take, and ‘Jack’ put in one of his best performances to date to make the running and then hold on at the line from the fast-finishing (and a shade unlucky) Stars On Earth and Lemaire. Jack d’Or definitely got the best out of the lush grass cover, which is how the turf currently looks at Hanshin.

Dead certs?

Liberty Island, the super-smart three-year-old filly by Duramente, puts her big reputation on the line this weekend in the G1 Oka Sho, the Japanese 1,000 Guineas over a mile. She’ll have plenty of opposition (with a full field of 18 runners expected), but if the filly is as good as many think, will any of the others have a realistic chance of beating her? 

That man Take rides the unbeaten filly Light Quantum, trained by his brother Koshiro, and Japan’s greatest jockey will be looking for a sixth win in the classic, but his first since 2014. Harper from the stable of Yasuo Tomomichi looks promising too, and those talented fillies will let us see just how good last season’s top juvenile filly Liberty Island really is.

Another big name to step out for the first time this year will be last year’s G1 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes winner, Dolce More. 


Dolce More fends off Danon Touchdown in last season's G1 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes. (Photo by JRA)

Connections have decided to keep him at a mile as he takes on the G2 New Zealand Trophy at Nakayama on Saturday, with a long-term view towards the G1 NHK Mile Cup in May. The three-year-old’s trainer Naosuke Sugai recently welcomed his 500th JRA win and, Dolce More aside, he is expected to have a couple of runners in the first leg of the Triple Crown, the G1 Satsuki Sho on April 16, namely Hrimfaxi – to be ridden by Damian Lane – and Shonan Bashitto, for which Mirco Demuro has been booked.

H O's no laughing matter

Yoshihisa Ozasa is the man behind the Ho O horses running in Japan, and the enterprising owner, who has been giving it his best shot since taking out an owner’s licence in 2014, has sent Ho O Amazon down to Australia to chase his Group 1 dream. It’s been quite a learning curve since he first cut his teeth in the business, helped in the beginning by none other than Yoshito Yahagi.

“I started out by buying a couple of horses for about ¥50 million and entrusted things to trainer Yoshito Yahagi, who knows a lot about buying horses and attends the Select Sale every year,” says Ozasa.

His first Group 1 runner was Ho O Perfume in 2017 and it took until March of 2021 for the company executive to score his first graded race win at the 25th attempt when Ho O Ixelles won the Group 3 Flower Cup. Just like London buses, another win came shortly after when the handsome chestnut Ho O Amazon won the G3 Arlington Cup in April of the same year.

Ho O Ixelles wins the G3 Flower Cup. (Photo by JRA)

A win at the highest level still eludes the Ho O man: “I was quite satisfied with Ho O Emmy’s run in the 2022 Queen Elizabeth Cup and thought she did well on the soft ground. The big thing for me would be to have a Derby horse, but I still don’t have one,” laments Ozasa.

He would certainly get some satisfaction if Ho O Amazon could provide him with a Group 1 win in the upcoming G1 All Aged Stakes at Randwick on April 15, so good luck to the man.

Kyoto's phantom race

The race had neither a name nor a number, and not even mention of a commentary, but last week six jockeys and their horses went ‘for a spin’ as it were on the new Kyoto racetrack which opens on April 22. 

They all gave the course the thumbs up and ‘winning jockey’ Yusuke Fujioka struck the customary ‘guts pose’ as he crossed the line ahead of other jockeys, which included Ryuji Wada and Yuga Kawada.

“It’s a fantastic course and it feels like the fourth corner is a lot smoother, but at the same time the track retains its original characteristics,” said Fujioka. 

Let’s hope the jocks were all spot on with their assessment of things and that the whole episode wasn’t an early April Fool. Looking at the spectacular redevelopment, I think we can safely say that it wasn’t. 




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