Horse Racing
Osaka Hai five share top billing at Hanshin

30/03/2023 17:04

Japan’s big race this weekend (Sunday, 2 April) is the G1 Osaka Hai (2000m) at Hanshin. Promoted to Group 1 status in 2017, this year marks the race’s 67th running of the storied contest. Sixteen berths are open to the 18 nominees and first place carries a prize of JPY200 million (approx. HK$11.52 million).

After yet another rather characteristic upset in the G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen (1200m) last week, some comfort may be had from knowing the Osaka Hai is not typically given to huge surprises and usually sees at least two of the top four finish in the money. This year, a handful of names are being discussed as those most likely to bring home the money.

Weltreisende took third place in the G1 Japan Cup (2400m) last year and, in his last start in mid-January, despite carrying the top weight of 130lb (2lb more than this time), prevailed in the G2 Nikkei Shinshun Hai (2200m) at Chukyo.

A six-year-old son of Dream Journey, Weltreisende has proven a consistent runner, with only three of 13 finishes out of the top three. He is said to be fully recovered from problems with tendinitis earlier last year. He looked sharp and light on his feet in training on Wednesday (29 March) under Yuga Kawada.

The last three years have seen females finish first or second and the blue-blooded Geraldina is considered a serious threat. The daughter of Maurice, winner of six Group 1s, including the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile (1600m) and the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m), and dam Gentildonna, who scooped seven Group 1s, Geraldina sat out the three-year-old Classic races, but came into her own from mid-2022, after which she posted two wins and three placings in Group-race company.

She topped Weltreisende by over six lengths in the G2 Sankei Sho All Comers (2200m) last autumn, before nabbing the G1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2200m), after which she wrapped up the year with a third in the G1 Arima Kinen (2500m). She returns after more than three months off, but has done well under similar circumstances before. She’s looking filled out and in fine shape in trackwork and is proven under 123lb.

One year her junior and chasing her third big win is Stars On Earth, a four-year-old Duramente filly, who claimed two of the three-year-old filly Classics and closed 2022 with a third in the final leg, the G1 Shuka Sho (2000m) at Hanshin. It’s been more than five months since her last start, and though Stars On Earth has yet to fare worse than third place in her eight career starts, she was slow away in the Shuka Sho, and running from the rear was unable to reach the top in time. She lost by a mere half-length, however, and with a track record like that and Christophe Lemaire set for the ride, confidence is high.

2021 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup runner-up Hishi Iguazu was about a length behind the winner here last year and though seven years old, his relaxed schedule has surely been key to seeing him make the board in all but one start to date. After finishing second in the G1 Takarazuka Kinen (2200m) in late June, he suffered from heatstroke and was given the rest of the year off. He returned last month with a winning run in the G2 Nakayama Kinen (1800m) and is looking good, primed, and with improvement expected.

Jack d’Or, fifth in the 2022 Osaka Hai, posted midfield finishes in his next two Group 1s, the G1 Tenno Sho Autumn (2000m) and the LONGINES Hong Kong Cup. Now five years old, he was given a hard workout this week under Yutaka Take and is looking powerful and race-ready.

Dark horses of interest include Lagulf, Matenro Leo and Maria Elena.