Horse Racing
Gran Alegria the one to beat in Japan’s top spring mile

03/06/2021 18:41

Japan’s Derby has been run and won. The two-year-olds debuts are starting to roll but there are two more top-level races in Japan before the G1 recess until next autumn. This Sunday’s (6 June) Yasuda Kinen (1600m) is the last G1 of the spring season at Tokyo and the Japan Racing Association’s second-to-the-last ahead of the Takarazuka Kinen (2200m) at Hanshin at month end.

The 2021 Yasuda Kinen line-up is looking to number only 14, four shy of a full gate and the same number as last year. A big part of the reason for what can be considered a relatively small field for a Japanese G1 is the presence of Gran Alegria, who last year topped runner-up Almond Eye by two and a half lengths to win the Yasuda Kinen, one of Japan’s two most important mile turf events.

With Almond Eye in retirement, only two of last year’s top-three finishers are back – Gran Alegria and Indy Champ. Two more from last year’s field – Danon Kingly and Danon Premium – look to improve their seventh and 13th-place finishes, respectively, while new blood rises to challenge the standing champion.

The general consensus is that no one can touch five-time G1 winner Gran Alegria, just off a stupendous win by four lengths in the all-female G1 Victoria Mile three weeks ago. She has won six of her eight outings at the distance, and won four of her five starts at Tokyo, all over a mile.

Christophe Lemaire was partnered with the Deep Impact-sired Gran Alegria in the Victoria Mile and he’s up again Sunday. He wasn’t aboard last year, however (Kenichi Ikezoe was), Lemaire was riding Almond Eye, who like Gran Alegria this year, was just off a win of the Victoria Mile. Gran Alegria last year was relatively fresh, having not raced a full two months prior – this year she’s getting her tightest rotation yet.

Interestingly, Ikezoe is aboard Danon Premium, who did poorly in his previous two Yasuda Kinens runs, but has alibis for both. Last year, he was just back from Down Under and an exhausting run on a sloppy track in the G1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m) at Randwick Racecourse in Sydney. The year before that, he’d been knocked hard at the break and never recovered. This year, he’s getting his first race since returning from his fourth-place finish in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m).

However, the two thought most likely to come within striking distance of the reigning queen are Indy Champ, a six-year-old son of Stay Gold, and Salios, a four-year-old colt by Heart’s Cry who ran 5th in the Osaka Hai earlier this year over the Hanshin 2000 (metres). Indy Champ, runner-up in last year’s Mile Championship, will be piloted by regular rider Yuichi Fukunaga, fresh off a win of the Japanese Derby last week aboard Shahryar.

After that, there’s Schnell Meister, who like Gran Alegria has a rather tight rotation. He topped the field of the G1 NHK Mile Cup (1600m) on 9 May and, as a three-year-old, will be running 4lb less than Gran Alegria, and 9lb less than either Indy Champ or Salios. He will, however, be meeting older horses for the first time.

The Lord Kanaloa-sired Cadence Call, runner-up in the NHK Mile Cup in 2019, is a good month off a win of the G2 Milers Cup (1600m) and gunning for his first big win. And Lauda Sion, whose sire Real Impact captured the Yasuda Kinen in 2011, is 1-2 over the Tokyo mile and will be partnered with Mirco Demuro, still glowing from victory aboard Uberleben in the Japanese Oaks on 23 May.