Liberty Island’s Oka Sho brilliance stunned even the expectant

Mitsumasa Nakauchida has long known that Liberty Island possesses rare talent but the filly’s stunning Classic win under Yuga Kawada went beyond what he had envisaged.

Liberty Island produced an extraordinary finishing burst to land the G1 Oka Sho. (Photo by JRA)

David Morgan

Chief Journalist


Liberty Island outran expectations in Sunday’s Oka Sho and that is saying something when the expectation in most quarters ahead of the year’s first Japanese Classic was that last season’s champion juvenile filly would be too good for her 17 rivals.  

She was. But even her trainer Mitsumasa Nakauchida admitted that Sunday Racing’s exciting three-year-old had exceeded what even those closest to her had anticipated.

“Yes, she did actually: I didn’t expect to see that,” he told Asian Racing Report, having had a day to reflect on the incredible stretch run that confirmed Liberty Island’s status as a superstar on the rise.

The Oka Sho victory was Liberty Island’s second Group 1 after her Hanshin Juvenile Fillies in December, giving her a three from four career record. But she hit the JRA scene with a boom as long ago as July last year when she won a 1600m ‘Newcomers’ race, clocking a JRA record of 31.4s through her final 600m. To spell that out, no horse in JRA known history has completed the final 600m of a race as fast as Liberty Island has, and she did it as a two-year-old on debut.

This time the strong filly with the ground-devouring stride clocked 32.9s for the final 600m but was still only 16th of 18 and cruising in a middling gear as the field turned for home.

“I was concerned (around the final turn),” Nakauchida said, recalling those moments. “I hoped she’d get into gear, but I wasn’t sure if she could take everything down from there, with so much ground to make up. But she got into gear and accelerated, and she just went past all of the field: I didn’t expect that, I thought she had a lot to do in the straight.”

Even Nakauchida’s accurate observation that “it was very impressive,” seems to underplay the filly’s jaw-dropping deep run under Yuga Kawada. Third-last into the home turn, the champion jockey shifted his mount to the outside upon straightening and, faced with about 12 lengths to make up inside the last 450 metres, she sprinted Hanshin’s long home straight to win by three quarters of a length.


The stunning visual of Liberty Island charging past rivals has done the rounds on social media but it was the result of the filly’s uncharacteristically slow start from an inside draw, which saw her shuffled back to race near the tail.

“That also was something we didn’t expect,” Nakauchida said. “She’s usually good from the gate so I thought she would have placed midfield. Yuga said that because she had a long lay-off (since December), she wasn’t in her mood to race, she was too relaxed and we didn’t tune her up to 100 percent.

“Yuga let her do whatever she wanted to do in the race, and for the first time she didn’t want to go forward from the gates. He was then concerned about getting into her own rhythm before going to top gear, that was important.”

Sunday’s Oka Sho performance looked a lot like the stepping-out of Japan’s next great race filly, only a week after last year’s Oka Sho winner Stars On Earth, another daughter of Duramente, rattled home late in the G1 Osaka Hai and failed narrowly in her attempt to solidify her claim to that mantle.

Nakauchida was pleased with his filly after the race and will now point Liberty Island to the Yushun Himba next month: a win there would emulate Stars On Earth’s Oka Sho-Yushun Himba double, as well as the great mares Almond Eye and Gentildonna.

Liberty Island is from the second crop of the late Duramente, a G1 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) winner, out of the G1-winning Australian mare Yankee Rose, who was second in the G1 Golden Slipper over 1200m at two and won G1 races at 1400m and 2000m, but was 14th of 15 when stepped up to 2500m in the G1 Oaks at Flemington. 


Yankee Rose was a two-time Group 1 winner in Australia. (Photo by Getty Images)

Mirco Demuro and champion colt Duramente take out the 2015 Tokyo Yushun. (Photo by Getty Images)

The manner of the Oka Sho win has lessened some of Nakauchida’s concerns about his filly’s capability to see out 2400m in the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks).

“I’m hoping there’s more chance of her staying a mile and a half than I thought before the race,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t have confidence she’ll stay the distance, but you never know until you try. But the way she raced, we are happy to go to the Japanese Oaks at a mile and a half.”

Connections seem not to have been tempted by the prospect of taking on the colts in the Tokyo Yushun either.

“There are many Northern Farm-bred runners in the Derby, so you don’t want to be against each other because Northern Farm want to make stallions as well,” Nakauchida added. “I thought with this filly being a Northern Farm-bred horse, I felt we should take in the fillies’ races rather than take on the colts.”  

There will be plenty of time for that when autumn comes around, and when it happens, the colts had better watch out if the Oka Sho is anything to go off.




    Subscribe now & get exclusive weekly content from Asian Racing Report direct to your inbox

      Expert ratings, tips & analysis for Hong Kong racing