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Nakauchida’s Golden Eagle hope Serifos is still grounded

Mitsu Nakauchida has Golden Eagle ambitions for Serifos but unless pandemic measures change to enable flights, there will not be any Japanese horses racing in Australia this spring.

Japan’s champion trainer Mitsu Nakauchida is holding on to a dissolving hope that Serifos might yet make the AU$10 million Golden Eagle line-up at Rosehill on October 29, but acknowledges the likely scenario is that he and his countrymen will not be represented at the Australian spring carnivals this year.

The problem for Japan’s horsemen is that there is not one scheduled flight option to transport race horses from Japan to Australia to compete in the lucrative Sydney and Melbourne contests.

Nakauchida has long had the Golden Eagle on his wish list and earmarked Grenadier Guards as a possible contender prior to that colt’s mediocre run at Royal Ascot. Serifos became the stable’s pick when he followed a first-up fourth in the G1 NHK Mile Cup with fourth in the G1 Yasuda Kinen, and that level of form would make him a prime contender for the 1500-metre Sydney feature.     

“We were thinking Serifos to go to the Golden Eagle,” Nakauchida told the Report. “Unfortunately, we can’t go to Australia at the moment. We cannot organise a flight from Japan to Australia because of the Covid situation.”

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Serifos (left) runs into fourth behind Songline in the G1 Yasuda Kinen. (Photo by JRA)

There were two scheduled routes pre-Covid – both used by Japanese connections – to get horses from Japan to race in Australia. One went via an NCA cargo flight to Singapore, then a seven-hour transit before being shipped to Australia via a Singapore Airlines flight. The other, more favoured route, was on a Cathay Pacific cargo flight via Hong Kong, where horses had a shorter transit before flying their second leg to Australia.

But, due to pandemic-related travel restrictions and aviation authority protocols in Hong Kong and Singapore, neither Cathay Pacific nor Singapore Airlines is running those cargo flights to Australia.

Despite the efforts of IRT (International Racing Transport), connections and administrators, there is no option for Japanese horses to travel to Australia other than by chartering a plane, which is not seen as a realistic alternative for horses being shipped to race, given the high cost. 

That option has been taken up by shuttle stallions from Japan to stand at stud in Australia this season, when enough horses have been shipped together to make it viable for the stallion operations.

Nakauchida said he will wait ‘until the beginning of next month’ before ruling out entirely his Golden Eagle plan but time is ticking and there is no indication that the situation will change before the nominations close on September 5.

Serifos takes out the Daily Hai Nisai Stakes at Hanshin. (Photo by JRA)

Overseas candidates for the Golden Eagle must enter overseas quarantine during the last week of September and arrive in Australia no later than The Everest day, October 15, which is two weeks before the Golden Eagle.

“At present, flight schedules between Japan and Australia have been challenged, post-Covid,” said James Ross, the Australian Turf Club’s general manager racing. “We hope services will be renewed in the back half of 2022 and that it comes in time for Serifos to compete in the Golden Eagle. Flights are expected to resume, it’s just a matter of hopefully sooner rather than later.

“Mitsu has had a long-range plan to target the Golden Eagle and a horse of Serifos’ quality, with that Group 1 form, I’d anticipate would be well in the market if he makes the trip. There’s been strong interest in the race from Japan since its inception; it’s the perfect sort of race for a Japanese three-year-old who has competed at the highest level and is looking to compete in an age category race rather than head in the open-age direction of the Mile Championship.”

The G1 Mile Championship at Hanshin on November 20 will be the fall-back option for Serifos if the Golden Eagle flight situation does not change in time. And Nakauchida is still hoping to send the son of Daiwa Major overseas before the year is over.

If he doesn’t go to Australia, he will be aimed at the Mile Championship in November.

“I would like to run Serifos in Hong Kong but it depends if he gets invited or not. If he doesn’t go to Australia, he will be aimed at the Mile Championship in November,” Nakauchida said.

European challengers, on the other hand, do have flights open to them and several are expected to make the journey, notably the James Ferguson-trained Deauville Legend to the G1 Melbourne Cup and stablemate El Bodegon to the G1 Cox Plate. The David Simcock-trained G1 Prix Jacques le Marois runner-up Light Infantry is being set towards the Golden Eagle. 

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