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The Triple Tiara is the focus for the outstanding filly, and while no decision has yet been made about the Japan Cup, the thought of a showdown with Equinox is tantalising.
Japan’s superstar filly Liberty Island is winding up towards a hugely-anticipated return to action in the G1 Shuka Sho on October 15, and her trainer Mitsu Nakauchida is aware of the responsibility he has in preparing a horse that is now ‘public property’.
Liberty Island is one of three high-profile candidates from the handler’s Ritto stable being set towards Group 1 assignments this autumn, the others being Serifos and Prognosis, but she is the standout when it comes to mass interest.
“I’m the trainer of Liberty Island, but at the same time she is already the peoples’ horse,” Nakauchida told Asian Racing Report. “She is the peoples’ idol, so I have to think about that as well as the horse, I have to think about the sport and look at the wider view.”
With that perspective in mind, he is focused intently on the next test, winning the Shuka Sho and completing the Triple Tiara, restricted to three-year-old fillies: Liberty Island has already dismissed her peers this season with impressive victories in the two fillies’ classics, the G1 Oka Sho and the G1 Yushun Himba.
Such was her reputation back in the spring that there was discussion among racing fans as to whether the daughter of Duramente and Yankee Rose might even take on the colts in the Derby, the Tokyo Yushun. That did not happen, but now the popular buzz in the media and among fans is around a potential post-Shuka Sho showdown with the world’s top-rated galloper, the mighty Equinox.
“I think this is what everyone wants to see really and I think it would be good for the sport,” Nakauchida said. “Equinox is a proven world class horse: he showed that in Dubai and he showed it again in the Takarazuka Kinen. I’m sure racing fans and people in the racing industry want to see the best three-year-old filly against the best horse in the world, so that might happen in the Japan Cup.”
But ‘might’ is the key word: Nakauchida was particular in stressing that no decision has been made yet on Liberty Island’s targets beyond the Shuka Sho.
“We cannot say at this moment that she is going to the Japan Cup,” he continued. “I haven’t spoken to Northern Farm about that, so they haven’t given me the green light to go to the Japan Cup yet: like the situation with the Derby, Northern Farm has a lot of strong colts with stallion potential, so that has to be considered as well. The only thing I can say is that she is going to the Shuka Sho to try and get the Triple Tiara.”
Liberty Island last raced on May 21 when she smashed her Yushun Himba rivals by six lengths. Thereafter, she summered at Northern Farms Shigaraki pre-training centre, a 40-minute drive from Ritto, where she put on about 40 to 50kg in body weight.
“She spent the whole summer there and has worked to get back towards her racing peak; because she is well, she has put on that weight and she looks stronger,” he said.
“Racing is starting to get exciting now that we are going into autumn, all the good horses are coming back for the big races in October, November, and December. The stable had a good spring and we did quite well in summer as well, with few horses, so we have horses in good shape to go into the autumn.”
Prognosis is one of those and he kicked off the lead-in to the autumn Group 1 features with an impressive win in the G2 Sapporo Kinen two weekends ago. That race is a traditional step towards the G1 Tenno Sho Autumn at Tokyo on October 29, and the five-year-old is aiming to emulate Tosen Jordan, the last horse to win both races, 12 years ago.
“He is going to the Tenno Sho for his next race,” the trainer confirmed. “He’s been running over 2000 metres quite a lot and I think this is his best distance: this is 2000 metres at Tokyo racecourse, which is a very fair track with a long straight.”
Prognosis is a late-developing son of Deep Impact with six wins on his record from only 10 starts. He has emerged this season as a high-class galloper, winning a pair of Group 2 races either side of a sound second to Romantic Warrior in the G1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Sha Tin in April.
“We always had high expectations for him and I think finally those expectations have met with his ability,” Nakauchida said. “I kind of felt that was the case when we went to Hong Kong: after the Kinko Sho in March he was really good, so we felt that he had finally matured in himself.
“He came back and won the Sapporo Kinen in good style and that was what we expected from him.”
Nakauchida saddled Serifos to win the G1 Mile Championship last November and that race is in the mix of options again this time around. But first the plan is for the Daiwa Major four-year-old to head to Tokyo for a Group 2 1600m race on October 21.
“Serifos is going to the Fuji Stakes but plans are kind of up in the air at the moment,” he said. “Depending on how he runs, we will decide whether he goes to the Hong Kong Mile or to the Mile Championship again: if he runs well in the Fuji Stakes we will decide whether to go to the Hong Kong Mile directly, or run him in the Mile Championship before going to Hong Kong.
“He ran second again in the Yasuda Kinen, beaten by a good filly. That was kind of disappointing not to win but it confirmed that his best distance is over a mile, so I’m glad we saw that. The horse did really good coming back from overseas, and performed well, so I must give big credit to the horse.”
Nakauchida, the JRA’s 2021 champion trainer, is second in the premiership, one win behind the leader Haruki Sugiyama, but he has accrued more prize money than any other trainer and has a strike rate second to none.
If Liberty Island, in particular, can continue her impressive run of success through the autumn and enlarge her already prodigious celebrity, it will only enhance her trainer’s burgeoning reputation at home and abroad.
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