The 1990s was a defining period for the Japanese thoroughbred. It was the decade in which imported stallions like Sunday Silence, Tony Bin, and Northern Taste set Japan’s horses on the path to international prominence on the race track and in the breeding shed. As the progeny of these three stallions, especially the offspring of Sunday Silence, have started equally successful stud careers, it has been their international successes as much as their domestic wins that have signalled their value in the breeding shed.
Of all the international races that the Japanese have participated in over the years, none have as high a participation rate as the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races. Since they were first represented at Sha Tin in 1993, the Japanese have flown over every year for at least one of the races. The best of those horses are impacting the Japanese thoroughbred in a whole new way.
Hong Kong’s effect can be historically felt already through 2001 Hong Kong Vase winner Stay Gold, from an early crop of the legendary stallion Sunday Silence. Domestically he had always found himself the runner-up to other big names like Japan’s leading earner T M Opera O, Jungle Pocket, Grass Wonder or fellow Sunday Silence-sired Special Week. His one G1 victory came after a memorable battle with Godolphin’s Ekraar in the Vase, after which he was retired to stud.
He died in 2015, but his impact on the Japanese thoroughbred is undeniable, having sired 783 winners to date including seven G1 winners – his most recent top-flight winner being the 2017 G1 Victoria Mile winner Admire Lead. His best representative is the mighty Orfevre, a six-time G1 winner, two-time Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe runner-up, Triple Crown winner, and 2011 Horse of the Year, who now leads the 2017 Freshman Sire rankings based on earnings. Orfevre already has two graded stakes winners to his name and could likely have his first G1 winner this weekend in Sunday’s G1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies where he will be represented by Rock This Town and Lucky Lilac. In many ways, Orfevre did more to promote Japanese racing globally than any other horse since Deep Impact, and he might not exist if Stay Gold had not captured the Hong Kong Vase.
The younger generations in Japan have felt the positive impact of Japanese-trained Hong Kong winners at stud as well. Rulership had his only G1 victory in Hong Kong’s QEII Cup in 2012 and went on to be Leading Freshman Sire in 2016. While he never raced in the HKIR, his son and first G1 winner Kiseki will be carrying his father’s banner this weekend in the Hong Kong Vase. Two other young stallions who did run and win multiple times at the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races are also making or are being set up to make their impact on the Japanese turf, Lord Kanaloa and Maurice.
Japan has never produced a sprinter more dominant than Lord Kanaloa, who captured the G1 Hong Kong Sprint in both 2012 and 2013. Those spectacular performances rang throughout the halls of Shadai Stallion Station in 2014 as he covered 250 mares in his first season and 276 in his second. He has covered the likes of Champion Sprinter Curren Chan, Caulfield Cup winner Southern Speed, five-time G1 winner Stardom Bound, four-time G1 winner Mosheen, two-time G1 winner Shamrocker, G1 Victoria Mile winner Asian Winds, the blue hen To The Victory, G1 Prix Saint-Alary winner Reve d’Oscar, Gentildonna’s full sister and multiple graded stakes winner Dona Blue, G1 New Zealand Oaks winner More Than Sacred, German Oaks winner Mystic Lips, G1 New Zealand 1,000 Guineas winner King’s Rose and G1 winner Ultra Bend, just to name a few. Shadai has even made Lord Kanaloa available for a select few southern hemisphere covers for those willing to send their mares to Japan.