Horse Racing
Young brigade out to topple old guard

30/09/2021 17:46

With the turn of the calendar, and mere hours before all eyes turn toward Longchamp, Japan spotlights its heavyweights in the Sprinters Stakes, a 1200m turf event at Nakayama Racecourse on Sunday, 3 October that kicks off the slew of autumn Group 1s.

With last year’s Sprinters Stakes champion Gran Alegria aimed for the G1 Tenno Sho Autumn (2000m), a full field of 16 is expected to be headlined by Danon Smash, a six-year-old son of Lord Kanaloa, who may find last season a hard one to top. He began with a win in the G2 Centaur Stakes (1200m), claimed the 2020 G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) and returned for victory in the 2021 G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen (1200m) last March. This year again, he flew to Hong Kong but could manage only sixth in the G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m) and hasn’t raced since. There are doubts as to how sharp he’ll be on Sunday returning first-up after five months.

Trainer Takayuki Yasuda, however, appeared unconcerned. “I think he’s in top condition now. Earlier, he tended to stiffen up in his back and hindquarters, but now he’s sharp even after fast work. He’s alert and on his toes and the best I’ve seen him.” Though Danon Smash was only breezed this week, last week’s 50-second workout up the Ritto hill course under jockey Yuga Kawada showed him in fine form.

Looking to nose Danon Smash out of the top billing is the four-year-old filly, Resistencia, who finished a neck behind her senior in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen before narrowly scooping the 2021 Centaur Stakes on 12 September. Winner of the top filly two-year-old G1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies (1600m) in 2019, this big Daiwa Major daughter heads into her seventh G1 bid and is gunning for her second top-level win. She has notched five wins total and has only missed the top three twice from 11 career outings.

Resistencia has done well over both left and right-handed venues, but will take on Nakayama for the first time. Trainer Takeshi Matsushita commented on his filly’s work up the hill on Wednesday (29 September) under an assistant. “As before the Centaur Stakes, her overall time was about 52 seconds. She was pushed hard over the last 200 metres and she ran powerfully. She looked good.”

Also eager for a piece of the pie of the whopping JPY281.8 million (approx. HK$20.6 million) is youngster Pixie Knight. He’s anything but petite at over 530kg, a three-year-old Maurice colt that followed Resistencia over the line in the Centaur Stakes by a neck. With only seven races under his belt and only two finishes out of the money, Pixie Knight, a G3 winner that tends to run close to the pace, will take on only the second G1 of his career and Nakayama for the first time. He has excellent late speed, but it remains to be seen how he too will fare in his first time up the Nakayama homestretch hill.

Veteran trainer Hidetaka Otonashi, who has 13 G1 victories to his name but has yet to win the Sprinters Stakes, admitted his concerns. “He wasn’t bothered by the hill in the Centaur Stakes but the stretch at Chukyo is long and he’d traveled in sixth position. Before that, in the flat stretch of Kokura, he’d gained ground in the final stage. The hill at Nakayama could pose a problem. But, the stretch is short and together with his experience at Chukyo, I think he should be ok.”

Gendarme, Kurino Gaudi and Mozu Superflare comprise the next trio of most-mentioned hopefuls. Gendarme, a six-year-old, has spent most of his career as a miler, but dipped down to 1200m and 1400m last autumn. Since then, the American-bred has captured two listed races and, at Hanshin early this year, finished third in the G3 Hankyu Hai (1400m). He is coming off a fourth-place finish only one and a half lengths behind Resistencia in the Centaur Stakes. A return to the Nakayama 1200m, over which he won this spring, bodes well.

Kurino Gaudi, a five-year-old, is a year younger, yet more experienced in stakes company, and this year’s Sprinters Stakes marks his seventh G1 bid. In last year’s Sprinters Stakes, he was fifth, four lengths off the winner. Kurino Gaudi has seven finishes in the money from 24 starts and was third from an outside draw in the Centaur Stakes on 12 September. His best results tend to come when racing to the left.

Mozu Superflare, an American-bred six-year-old mare, heads into her third Sprinters Stakes. Also trained by Otonashi, she has been given the same rotation every year preceding the Sprinters Stakes by contesting the Takamatsunomiya Kinen in late March, the G3 Kitakyushu Kinen (1200m) in late August, and the Sprinters Stakes. She finished third to Yoka Yoka in that G3 contest and fifth in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen, indicating she still has ample chance of success.