The NHK Mile Cup in early May gives Japan’s three-year-old colts a fallback option if the 2,000 metres of their first Classic test, the Satsuki Sho, is beyond them. It also hands the Classic fillies an opportunity to spring right out of their Classic, the Oka Sho, and take on the boys around Tokyo’s testing mile.
The girls have succeeded five times since Seeking The Pearl scored in 1997 and that filly went on to become the first Japanese-trained Group 1 winner in Europe when she landed the Prix Maurice de Gheest the following year. The NHK Mile Cup’s list of past winners features another international trailblazer, the 1999 Arc runner-up El Condor Pasa, as well as the noted sires Kurofune, Mikki Isle and King Kamehameha.
Featured winner: King Kamehameha
The supremely talented King Kamehameha was Japan’s champion three-year-old in 2004 but went through a tough ‘rotation’ to achieve that accolade, which ultimately led to his trainer Kunihide Matsuda facing criticism. The colt won both of his races as a late-season juvenile but tasted his only defeat in an eight-race career when he began his Classic campaign over 2,000 metres in January of that year.
King Kamehameha won over 2,200 metres and 2,000 metres at his next two starts and then posted a stunning five-length victory when dropped in trip for the NHK Mile. Just 21 days later, he stepped up to 2,400 metres and won the Tokyo Yushun by a length and a half from Heart’s Cry. King Kamehameha raced once more, for a Grade 2 success that September, but a tendon injury forced his early retirement.
He stood at Shadai Stallion Station where he numbered Lord Kanaloa, Duramente, Rose Kingdom and Apapane among his best progeny until his death in August 2019.