Mandarin Hero set towards August race return

The NAR’s Kentucky Derby runner is prepping for some possible big race targets at home and abroad, leaving Mick Fire to shoot for a home track hat-trick.

NAR star Mandarin Hero. (Photo by NAR)

David Morgan

Chief Journalist


Japan’s G1 Santa Anita Derby second Mandarin Hero is back in his stable at Oí racecourse as trainer Terunobu Fujita prepares the three-year-old for a mid-August return at his home track ahead of the possibility of further international travel.

That means the NAR (National Association of Racing)’s high-profile three-year-old will not be among the 11-horse line-up for the Japan Dirt Derby at Oí on Wednesday night, with Fujita having given the colt the time needed to recover from his travel to the US earlier this year.

Mandarin Hero caused a stir on the North American scene when beaten only a nose at Santa Anita in April and went on to contest the G1 Kentucky Derby, in which he finished 12th. Rare feats for a horse from Japan’s ‘second tier’ local council racing.

“He was not ready for the Japan Dirt Derby, he came back last week to our stable and we are planning to run him in the middle of August in a stakes race at Oí, the Kuroshio Hai. That’s a nine-furlong race, the same as the Santa Anita Derby,” Fujita told Asian Racing Report.


The G3 Korea Cup on September 10 has been a hoped-for target ever since the son of Shanghai Bobby held his own in the US. But Fujita is mindful that his stable star might not make the invited list for the 1800m feature on the Seoul sand.

“If we can, we want to go to the Korea Cup, but it looks like Meisho Hario might be going to the Korea Cup and Mandarin Hero is only rated 114 so might not be invited,” Fujita continued.

The JRA (Japan Racing Association)’s Meisho Hario, trained at Ritto by Inao Okada, was third in the G1 February Stakes earlier this year and landed the Teio Sho at Oí last month for the second year in a row.

But Fujita still has high ambitions for Mandarin Hero and those might include more overseas travel in the first quarter of 2024, with the G1 February Stakes at home and the G2 Godolphin Mile in Dubai among the options connections might consider.

“We will look at which races would be more realistic for him to win,” he said.

Mandarin Hero and Kazushi Kimura approach the Kentucky Derby starting gates. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Mandarin Hero's trainer Terunobu Fujita. (Photo by Asian Racing Report)

Prior to that, Fujita and the owner are considering a provisional route through the autumn that could see Mandarin Hero shoot for a JRA stakes race, the G3 Musashino Stakes at Tokyo in mid-November.

Meanwhile, in Mandarin Hero’s absence, Mick Fire has lit up the three-year-old division at Oí this spring and summer with impressive wins in the Haneda Hai and Tokyo Derby. He is said to be in fine form as he bids to complete the set of races which from next year will officially be the NAR’s Dirt Triple Crown, and at the same time maintain his unbeaten status.

Mick Fire will face seven JRA opponents including Listed Hyogo Championship one-two Mitono O and Kirinji, and Yuttithan, a son of Justify aiming for a fourth straight win at his fifth start; also, recent Hanshin winner Oro Y Plata, and the Listed winner Goraiko, last seen when down the field in the G2 UAE Derby, while Listed scorer Omatsuri Otoko was sixth in the G3 Unicorn Stakes last time. 




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