Japanese racing will celebrate its final big event of the spring with the running of the G1 Yasuda Kinen (1600m) at Tokyo Racecourse on Sunday (4 June) with the 73rd staging of the showcase.
Long a favourite target for Hong Kong horsemen, Fairy King Prawn captured the race in 2000 to become the first Hong Kong-trained horse to win a Group 1 overseas, while Bullish Luck landed the Yasuda Kinen in 2006.
This year sees no participants from abroad, but the 18 runners boast international-level talent, and include 10 Group 1 winners and many fan favourites.
Five horses feature prominently in the majority of discussions – Schnell Meister, Sodashi, Serifos, Jack d’Or and Songline. If the race plays out anything like it did last year, with only under two lengths separating the winner and the eighth-place finisher, it’s going to be close again.
Schnell Meister, a Kingman five-year-old who has competed in three countries and at Grade 1 level in eight of his 14 starts, contests his third Yasuda Kinen. His first seven starts saw him securely in the top three. He captured the 2021 G1 NHK Mile Cup (the top mile event for three-year-olds and his only Group 1 win) over 1600m, then finished third in the Yasuda Kinen a month later.
Last year, Schnell Meister returned from Dubai to narrowly miss the Yasuda winner’s circle by a neck under Christophe Lemaire and afterward failed to shine in his next three starts. This year, however, he is in improved form. His most recent win came in the G2 Yomiuri Milers Cup (1600m) six weeks ago at Kyoto. Paired again with Lemaire, who has ridden all but five of his 14 career starts, Schnell Meister is again a leading chance in the Yasuda Kinen.
Five-year-old Sodashi, a stunning pure white mare by Kurofune, returned after a six-month layoff to miss the G1 Victoria Mile (1600m) win by a head under Damian Lane. The mile specialist is back less than a month later for a chance at the 180-million yen (approx. HK$10.1 million) Yasuda winner’s share. It’s expected to be her last race and she has a new partner in Yuga Kawada, who tops the jockey standings only five wins ahead of Lemaire.
Songline, a five-year-old by Kizuna, beat Sodashi to the line in the Victoria Mile. Last year, she’d gone from a fifth in that race to winning the Yasuda Kinen. Given her hard run in the Victoria Mile, expectations are dampened. But, with a relaxed schedule of only two starts this year, she just may be able to score big again.
Maurice-sired Jack d’Or is a specialist over 2000 metres and returns from his G1 Osaka Hai (2000m) win at Hanshin on 2 April. He is taking on his first mile, but given his early speed and his 5-1-1-4 record over the Tokyo 2000m, the drop in distance at the highly demanding venue may help him land his second big win.
Damian Lane is set to pilot Serifos, fourth in last year’s Yasuda Kinen. He’s 2-4-4-1 in the G1 mile and bagged the G1 Mile Championship (1600m) in November at Hanshin. He’s returning from Dubai and makes only his second start of the year. He’s fresh and Lane is fresh off his Derby win aboard Tastiera. Together the two may be able to score another big victory.