Liberty Island has more in the tank

Trainer Mitsu Nakauchida believes Liberty Island will improve into her next run, wherever that may be, after his champion filly arrived first-up from a summer break to win the Shuka Sho.

A delighted Yuga Kawada returns to scale at Kyoto after Liberty Island's Shuka Sho triumph. (Photo by Shuhei Okada)

David Morgan

Chief Journalist


Liberty Island fulfilled the dreams of her connections and her adoring fans when she won the G1 Shuka Sho at Kyoto on Sunday to become the seventh JRA Fillies’ Triple Crown winner. But, with her next assignment yet to be locked in, trainer Mitsu Nakauchida believes that wherever she goes, she should be capable of better than we saw at the weekend.

“I think she gets better after she has had one run,” he told Asian Racing Report, two days after the filly stood for victory photographs, her mane plaited between the ears and adorned with little orange and yellow pompoms, before a Kyoto grandstand ringing with the applause of 45,601 knowledgeable spectators.


The Shuka Sho was Liberty Island’s first race since she obliterated the opposition in the G1 Yushun Himba in May, having spent the summer at Northern Farm Shigaraki. Nakauchida had his filly fit for the race, as emphasised by the result, but the feeling is that she will be sharper – mentally and physically – should she go on to a G1 Japan Cup clash with Equinox, or face the older mares in the G1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup, or head to the G1 Arima Kinen in December.  

“I thought she would probably be up to 90 percent for her performance in the Shuka Sho, but actually she was maybe 80 percent in her performance. There is more to come from her in that way,” the trainer continued.

“The Oka Sho was the same way: she was maybe only 70 percent. Then, the Oaks, we saw her at 100 percent. She has shown us this season that there is more to come after she has one run.”

Mitsu Nakauchida and Yuga Kawada in the aftermath of Liberty Island's Shuka Sho victory. (Photo by Shuhei Okada)

A Japan Cup head-to-head is what the world wants to see, of course, but Nakauchida is deeply aware of the responsibility he has, given the filly’s booming popularity: discussions with the Sunday Racing management team as to what happens next are ongoing and will be decided in the coming days.

Now that Liberty Island walks as a Triple Tiara heroine in the footsteps of great mares like Almond Eye and Gentildonna, every move must be carefully weighed and measured.

“Liberty Island is not just the trainer’s or the owners’ horse any more, she’s actually the people’s horse, she is kind of an idol, so I have to think of the wider view, what’s good for the sport and the wider horse industry. I have to think about the whole sport now,” he reiterated.

The filly’s growing global celebrity – she is also the daughter of the late Duramente and the Group 1-winning Australian mare Yankee Rose – brings deeper scrutiny, and an increased interest in the small things, like those pompoms.

When she won the Oka Sho in the spring, the little pompoms tied to the neat braid were a soft pink, to match the season’s cherry blossoms; her scorching win in the Yushun Himba in May was accompanied by red pompoms; and for her first autumn assignment, she had the one yellow and one orange pompom to match the season’s colours.

“That’s the idea of the groom’s wife, the pompoms are handmade,” Nakauchida revealed. “My groom, Keisuke Matsuzaki, is the person who does it. He does a really good job, especially with fillies, and he looks after his horses really well.”

A considered addition to Liberty Island's race day 'gear': seasonally-appropriate pompoms on the filly's carefully braided mane. (Photo by Shuhei Okada)

As for Sunday’s win, Nakauchida was satisfied that the race went as expected, and was pleased with how his old friend and champion jockey Yuga Kawada executed a savvy ride.

“Two thousand metres at Kyoto is a very tricky racecourse: it’s a very short straight, and, after you start, the first corner comes very quickly,” he noted. “Positioning was very important, so Yuga did a really good job to get her out from the gate and take an ideal position, but he was drawn inside so she was middle of the pack, she was in-between horses.

“Towards the final turn, Yuga did really well again to bring her out, to make sure she got a clear run coming to the straight, and then she wanted to go, so he let her. She started running and she really finished the race.”

Kawada kept the heroine going to the line using hands and heels, leaving the impression that she had more in the tank, had the fast-finishing one-length second Masked Diva got any closer.

“Yes. Yes, she did,” Nakauchida confirmed. “It was a great win.”  




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