Horse Racing
Unbeaten Contrail pegged for triple crown fame

22/10/2020 17:48

Contrail, a son of the late Triple Crown champion Deep Impact, is not only primed and expected to vaporise the competition but he stands to become only the third colt to capture Japan’s classic treble while unbeaten, this Sunday (25 October) at Kyoto. His sire did it before him in 2005 and, 21 years before that, Symboli Rudolf had been the first to claim the classic three with a pristine record.

The G1 Kikuka Sho (3000m), second only to the spring Tenno Sho Spring as Japan’s longest top-level flat race, caps the Triple Crown, which begins in the spring with the G1 Satsuki Sho (2000m) and the G1 Tokyo Yushun (2400m), or Japanese Derby.

Of the 23 horses who have claimed both spring classics, 15 went to the Kikuka Sho gate to claim that final feather in their cap, but only seven succeeded, beginning with St. Lite in 1941.

If anyone can do it again, it’s Contrail. This week, his last drill before the race took the colt up the 800m hill course at Ritto under an assistant to trainer Yoshito Yahagi, who is eager to lay claim to his 17th big-race win and first Kikuka Sho victory.

Wednesday morning (21 October), the woodchip surface was heavy and his colt, eager to run, was held back over the first half before slowly being allowed to accelerate. He used his body fully with exemplary form, for top marks and a time of 52.5s with a final 200m in 12.9s.

“He’s switched on,” said his rider. “So I concentrated on not letting him overdo it. The ground was slow, but there were no problems with either his movement or breathing.”

Contrail’s training has gone smoothly, all according to plan. Returning from his spring campaign, he kicked off the fall with a win by 2 lengths over Weltreisende in the G2 Kobe Shimbun Hai (2200m) at Chukyo on 27 September.

“He broke away from the crowd with stupendous acceleration,” said Yahagi of the race.

“I was in the position of not being able to lose that race and, at the same time, not being able to push him too much, so that he’d be ready for the Kikuka Sho. It was quite a conflict and a very difficult race,” he added.

But, he and Contrail have overcome difficulties and look poised for success. “Contrail seems to understand what our intentions are. He turns off after a race. He slowly revs up before one. He really is a very clever horse,” said Yahagi.

No matter how good the chances that Japan will see a second unbeaten youngster capture a Triple Crown in as many weeks, the search is heated for the other two to fill out the winning trio.

G2 Kobe Shimbun Hai runner-up Weltreisende, by 2009 G1 Arima Kinen champ Dream Journey, is one of the most mentioned, as is Babbitt and Satono Flag.

Weltreisende was third in the Derby and has only figured out of the money once, when finishing eighth in the G1 Satsuki Sho (2000m). The extra distance of the Kikuka Sho will be a plus for him.

A likely longshot that may be most advantaged by the distance this time out is Black Hole (ninth in the Satsuki Sho, seventh in the Derby), a Goldship colt of stayer stature (978 lb).

Satono Flag looked in fine form with a first-up second in the G2 St. Lite Kinen (2200m) on 21 September at Nakayama. Satono Flag and Danon Gloire are the two colts nominated for Sunday’s race by super mare Almond Eye’s trainer, Sakae Kunieda.

Babbitt, by Nakayama Festa (second in the 2010 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe), bypassed the Classics and, racing solely in the 1800-2200m range, has sped to his first G1 on a four-race winning streak that included the G2 St. Lite Kinen last out.

The 81st running of the Kikuka Sho is set for 2:40pm Hong Kong time this Sunday, 25 October.