Sunday’s (26 March) running of the G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen (1200m) features a clash of three individual Group 1 winners against a host of emerging talents at Chukyo Racecourse in Nagoya.
The only top-level Japanese sprint of the first half of the year, the Takamatsunomiya Kinen has a field of 18 runners ranging in age from four to eight, who will vie for the 170 million yen (approx. HK$ 9.792 million) winner’s prize.
Last year’s Takamatsunomiya Kinen champion Naran Huleg, 2021 Sprinters Stakes (1200m) winner Pixie Knight, sidelined for over a year, and Grenadier Guards, who won the Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes (1600m) in 2020, form the established guard of Japanese speedsters.
The wagering in Japan for Sunday’s event, however, is expected to revolve largely around three names still chasing their first Group 1 victory – filly Namura Clair and five-year-old mare Meikei Yell, both daughters of 2016 Takamatsunomiya Kinen runner-up Mikki Isle, and a newcomer to the big time, Caravaggio colt Aguri, who just captured his first graded-stakes race.
Namura Clair tops the trio for her solid track record and reliability, with only two of her 11 finishes out of the money. She returned from a fifth in last year’s autumn G1 Sprinters Stakes for a close win by a head over First Force in the Silk Road Stakes (1200m) on 29 January, a G3 over the same course as the Takamatsunomiya Kinen.
Namura Clair’s four wins (three of them graded stakes) have all been over 1200 metres. Troubled by chronic hoof problems, hopes are high that she can make it four.
Meikei Yell has captured six graded stakes over 1200m-1600m, but is yet to win from her six Group 1 bids thus far, with at best a fourth and at worst two double-digit finishes.
Rising star Aguri is seen as the most likely to pull off an upset. With only two starts as a two-year-old, he remained in the lower ranks through his three-year-old year, rising surely but steadily with five wins and only one finish out of the top three from nine starts. He reached the three-win level in December, then started the year with his first graded stakes competition, a G3 over the Hanshin 1400, which he won by a neck over Daddy’s Vivid. Speed and his trainer Takayuki Yasuda are his strengths.
This will be the last chance for the soon-to-retire Yasuda to add one more victory to his Takamatsunomiya Kinen record of three wins (2012 Curren Chan, 2013 Lord Kanaloa, and 2021 Danon Smash).
However, the Takamatsunomiya Kinen is well-known for upsets. In the hunt for the top three finishers, the names Win Marvel, Toshin Macau, Lotus Land, Vento Voce, Pixie Knight, Naran Huleg, Grenadier Guards, Daddy’s Vivid and Travesura are all receiving mention.
Last year, a heavy track contributed to keeping all popular picks at bay and out of the top four finishers. This year, with rain forecast for Thursday and Sunday, it may once again be open season at Chukyo.