Michael Cox



Thrilling Yasuda Kinen shows less is more 

At the 200m mark of Sunday’s Yasuda Kinen the trademark walls of sound from the fans at Tokyo Racecourse were met by a wall of horses.

The crowd weren’t cheering for one hero, or even two, but six chances spread across the track, all offering hope to their backers.

This is the type of race the tag Grade One was meant for: divergent formlines colliding, one grand final to decide the best of a category. If you don’t win this, you simply can’t lay claim to being the best miler in Japan. 

There are just two open age Grade One mile races each season, the Yasuda Kinen and the Mile Champions. The scarcity of opportunity for elite success is what makes these races so competitive, and is one of the defining characteristics of Japanese racing.

There are just 23 Grade One races in Japan each year, a number which pales in comparison to Australia, which has 74 at the elite level. 

A snapshot passing the marker pole in Sunday’s Yasuda Kinen showed Danon The Kid still in front, first-up for nearly four months, reaching for the line like a horse that thinks he will get there first, but about to be swamped. The once-prodigious Salios, teasing us with his talent again, looming after a superb ride from Damien Lane from gate 17. Ducking to the inside of the leader, Yutaka Take driving the bridesmaid Fine Rouge in search of her first top level win. The favourite, Schnell Meister, threatening. The three-year-old Serifos out wide and trucking. 

Race caller Murray Johnson held his nerve, rattling off the chances in rapid-fire succession. It was a race to be decided late and it was Songline, a winner in Saudi Arabia earlier this year, who burst through for a maiden top flight win. Lane’s effort might have been the ride of the race but Kenichi Ikezoe had his back and thus the run of the race – even if he did expose her early and make sure his mount got full use of the long Tokyo straight.


Songline surges to victory in the Yasuda Kinen. (Photo by JRA)

“She broke well and I decided to settle her behind Salios who rushed up in front of us,” said Ikezoe, who had spotted Sodashi too much of a start when unplaced in the Victoria Mile. “Trying not to make the same mistake as last time, we made an early bid before the last corner and she responded well and stretched all the way for a strong finish,” he added.

What made this race great? It helped that those six chances came via five different races, the first four across the line, from four different races. All roads lead to Tokyo and we had ourselves a contest: Grade Ones in Japan aren’t always as full of diverse formlines as this one, but they are nearly always as competitive.

Getting back to Australia, the term ‘Group One’ appears to have lost all meaning and not because of the ‘pop-up races’ like The Everest – but because of a culture of upgrading races without downgrading others.

When Group One racing was first introduced in Australia in 1979, there were just six Group One mile races for open age horses at the trip; five handicaps and one at weight-for-age, and none specifically for mares and fillies. Now there are 10 Group One 1600-metre races in Australia every season, eight for both sexes and two for the fillies and mares only. And this does not count Australia’s richest mile race, the All-Star Mile – which doesn’t have black type status.

The sheer competitiveness of these Japanese races is arguably one of the driving forces behind so many Japanese horses heading offshore in search of black type: it’s easier than staying at home, especially if your horse is exposed at that level.

And just in case anybody thought stepping up in trip might be a good idea, or that there could be a softer option on the horizon, the next Grade One is the Takarazuka Kinen in three weeks at Hanshin. It will be even harder.



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