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Adrian Webber has the latest from Japan as a series of comebacks and retirements point to the approaching changing of the seasons as winter enters its final weeks.
Special events and festivals are always prepared for early in Japan, and while winter’s grip is still cold and hard, spring is on the horizon as thoughts turn to renewal, fresh life and a whole array of customs. From shiniest bald head competitions to the more cultural bean-throwing to keep evil spirits away, the country is preparing its ever optimistic farewell to winter.
For racing enthusiasts, however, it’s more of a heads-down, full-on concentration in preparation for the uplift in quality and the return of higher-level sport.
One horse on the cusp of a spring-time renewal is Pixie Knight, who a long 13 months ago was the bright hope of Japan’s sprint division. A broken left knee as the result of a crushing fall in the G1 Hong Kong Sprint in December 2021 threatened to extinguish that light but the G1 Sprinters Stakes winner recently returned to the stable of Hidetaka Otonashi at the Ritto Training Centre with a spring comeback being the aim.
Pixie Knight seems to be on the right track after a January 29 workout where stable staff checked his movement and reactions, and everything was reported to be fine with him after his efforts. He’d already been working at the farm before returning to Ritto. The five-year-old has taken a gate test, and even though he hasn’t raced for such a long time, he’s gradually getting back to where the stable wants him to be.
Trainer Otonashi said: “We’re checking his condition regularly since his return and ideally we’ll focus on him being ready for the G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen in March.”
Also on the comeback trail after injury is jockey Kenichi Ikezoe, perhaps best known as the rider of Orfevre. He broke a bone in his lumbar vertebrae in a fall last November and returns to the saddle this coming weekend when he will ride Pradaria for his brother, trainer Manabu Ikezoe. The 43-year-old rider has worked hard on getting fit again since being cleared by the doctor last month, and his great memories of the time he partnered Orfevre have spurred him on. His father, Kaneo, also a trainer, retires this spring, so it’s to be hoped the comeback works out well for the whole family.
As Yuichi Fukunaga slowly bows out from his career as a jockey with a gradual farewell tour of sorts, a ceremony was held at Kokura last Saturday, where he took his last rides at the Kyushu track and rode a double on the day. All his 247 wins at the course seem to have provided him with a lot of satisfaction throughout his riding days.
“It’s always been great to ride at Kokura, particularly when I was younger it felt like part of my development as a jockey. I’d like to thank everyone here today for coming together and supporting me over the years,” commented the rider, on his last day down south.
As the G1 February Stakes on February 19 creeps closer, Dry Stout might prove a more potent choice than Lemon Pop come the day. Jockey Keita Tosaki being booked for the former, while Lemon Pop remains without a jockey in the early nomination list.
On reflection, Gilded Mirror could take all the beating this time with the extra furlong compared to her recent second behind Lemon Pop in the G3 Negishi Stakes, where she slipped at the start. Her jockey, Kosei Miura, is still looking for an elusive first JRA Group 1 win. The North American challenger, Shirl’s Speight, arrives at Narita Airport on February 9 to begin his preparations for the race at the new international stables at Tokyo Racecourse.
It’s always good to keep an eye on the weekday racing scene in local government (NAR) races. Last week’s J-G1 Kawasaki Kinen saw six-year-old Ushba Tesoro beat T O Keynes in the 2100 metre race. Ushba Tesoro is by Orfevre and is really showing improvement after also winning last December’s G1 Tokyo Daishoten, Japan’s only international Group 1 race outside of the JRA. Both Ushba Tesoro and T O Keynes could well head to Dubai.
— Team Iwata (@JayRAye02) February 1, 2023
Meanwhile at the Himeji track last Tuesday, five-year-old mare Kaolinite wasn’t satisfied with her ninth place finish in the fourth race and later bolted from her stall. She proceeded to exit through the west entrance and ran down the road for some 300 metres before being captured by a horse transporter driver. Authorities apologised for any inconvenience caused, but thankfully no harm was done, except perhaps in the betting ring earlier.
Stallion Kinshasa No Kiseki has been retired from stud duties. The Australian-bred showed his best form in his racing days from age six onwards, and won the G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen in 2010 and 2011 as a seven-year-old and an eight-year-old, the second time under Umberto Rispoli. His offspring have produced on dirt and turf, so look out for his final crop this year.
Kinshasa No Kiseki was bred by Arrowfield Stud in the Hunter Valley, where his sire Fuji Kiseki shuttled for five seasons from 1998 to 2002.
But let’s finish up where we started, on a spring note, with news that the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) hopeful Danon The Tiger will make his first appearance of the year in this Sunday’s G3 Kyodo News Hai. Jockey Yuga Kawada has the task of getting a good result from the colt he describes as “fundamentally a good horse but still with things to learn”.
This Sunday also sees last year’s Derby hero Do Deuce return in the Grade 2 Kyoto Kinen, where the 2021 Horse of the Year Efforia is expected to give him a good run for his money, but wiser souls know it won’t be a two-horse race.
Let’s hope some of the early plans above work out well. As the saying goes, “if you fail to plan, your plan will fail” and when spring is in the air, all plans have an added sense of anything being possible.
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