Sunday, 29 May features the 89th running of Japan’s most famous race, the G1 Tokyo Yushun (2400m) and, for the fourth straight week, Tokyo Racecourse is the scene of top-level action.
The second race in Japan’s Triple Crown, the Japanese Derby of 2022 will be an all-male affair, with 22 colts nominated for the race’s 18 berths. As in the G1 Satsuki Sho (2000m), four colts are in the spotlight – Geoglyph, Equinox, Do Deuce, and Danon Beluga.
The four crossed the line in that order in the Satsuki Sho but given the extra 400 metres of the Derby and the switch to Tokyo, a far more spacious and forgiving track than Nakayama, the finishing order this weekend is expected to be different.
Equinox tops the candidate list for the Derby first prize of JPY200 million (approx. HK$12.32 million). In the Satsuki Sho, the colt was returning five months after his win of the G2 Tokyo Sports Hai Nisai Stakes (1800m) at Tokyo; breaking from the far outside gate in the Satsuki Sho, he was keen in the early stages as the field passed the grandstand filled with a significant number of people for the first time in two years. Christophe Lemaire managed to settle him coming into the stretch and he rallied to finish second a length behind winner Geoglyph.
This will be his first time over 2400m and trainer Tetsuya Kimura says: “The wide-open Tokyo course is not a minus, but the extra distance isn’t a plus. He has won strongly at Tokyo before, though.”
Equinox will be partnered again with the globe-trotting Lemaire, whose scoop of the G1 Yushun Himba (2400m) last week put an end to a nearly six-month drought of graded stakes wins in Japan.
Danon Beluga took advantage of the far inside gate for a ground-saving run in the Satsuki Sho and finished fourth, two and a half lengths behind the winner. The return to Tokyo bodes well, where Danon Beluga won his first two starts – a debut over 2000m, followed by the G3 Kyodo News Hai (1800m).
His sire Heart’s Cry was runner-up by a length and a half in the 2004 Derby. Trainer Noriyuki Hori, who won the 2015 Derby with Duramente, says: “The distance itself is an unknown, but the left-handed direction and sweeping turns of Tokyo are definitely a plus.”
Do Deuce, also by Heart’s Cry, is fielded by two-time Derby winner Yasuo Tomomichi. The colt has yet to win at anything longer than 1800m, but it’s also only his second time at Tokyo. Racing from the back in the Satsuki Sho, he virtually flew over the final 600m in 33.8s and came within two and a quarter lengths of the top.
Unlike the short Nakayama stretch, Tokyo’s – at nearly 526 metres – will surely stand him well. It’s his third start of the year and improvement is expected. Do Deuce is partnered with the iconic Yutaka Take, the Derby record-holder with five wins from 32 bids.
Last but not least is Satsuki Sho winner Geoglyph, a big chestnut by Drefong. Breaking from the gate 14 in the Satsuki Sho, he quickly secured a position midfield, where he was able to hold stablemate Equinox in his sights, advance up the outside and top him (and the field) in the final strides.
After riding fast work on Wednesday (25 May), Yuichi Fukunaga said he found Geoglyph stronger and running even better than he had before the Satsuki Sho. He considered the Derby distance manageable and the main concern to be not the horse but the track condition. It’ll be the 12th day of the recent Tokyo meetings.
“I don’t know what the track bias is going to be like and how he’ll find it. That to me is going to be the biggest factor,” said Fukunaga, who has ridden the winner in three of the last four Derbys and, if he can win it again Sunday, he’ll become the first jockey to make it three in a row.