March 27 is the kick-off date for Japan’s Great Spring Races, a dazzling array of Tier 1 events that continue almost non-stop every week until the end of June.
The start is Sunday’s Takamatsunomiya Kinen, a 1,200-meter (six furlong) grass sprint held at Chukyo Racecourse for left-handers. The 52nd edition of the Takamatsunomiya Kinen attracted 20 nominees, ranging in age from 4 to 8 years old and including six females and one gelding. Eighteen of them will find a place.
This year’s field is running out of top-tier winners compared to the past. Of the nominees, only a trio – Salios, Resistencia and Grenadier Guards – have claimed a Grade 1 event, all at age 2. Other promising hopefuls are the winners of major stage races. From the last race, the winners were: Gendarme (Grade 3 Yukan Fuji Sho Ocean Stakes), Diatonic (Grade 3 Hankyu Hai), Meikei Yell (Grade 3 Silk Road Stakes) and Grenadier Guards (Grade 2 Hanshin Cup). Naran Huleg, Travesura, Sunrise Honest and Shine Garnet also finished in the Top 3 in these races.
The 1,200-meter Chukyo grass race starts on the straight. Once back home, there are still 412 meters to go, with a climb starting just 70 meters further and rising almost two meters over the next 100 meters.
The start time for the 52nd edition of the Grade 1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen will be 3:40 p.m. local time, and it will be race 11 on the Sunday map in Chukyo.
Here’s a look at the top picks expected:
Grenadier Guards: The 4-year-old colt Grenadier Guards has just won the Hanshin Cup Grade 2 over 1,400 meters. The colt has only managed to finish in the Top 3 twice in nine starts. He has a win and a third in his three Grade 1 bids so far, over the entire mile. Although he has two wins and two seconds in his four 1,400-meter starts (seven furlongs), this will be his first time at 1,200 meters. His father, undefeated 10-time G1 winner Frankel, raced mostly the mile. Grenadier Guards, however, also inherited sprinting blood from his dam Wavell Avenue, who won the Breeders’ Cup Fillies and Mare Sprint in 2015. The colt will go out the door for the first time in three months with his new partner, jockey Yuichi Fukunaga. Fukunaga, who boasts three Takamatsunomiya Kinen wins, has been putting up fast work over the past two weeks.
Grenadier Guards are 3-2-2 in nine starts, with earnings of US$1,842,490.
Resistance: The 5-year-old Daiwa Major missed the winner’s circle here last year by a neckline, and in the Sprinters Stakes in early October she again finished second two lengths behind the winner. Both times she had run from an outside door. Of her seven Grade 1 entries in Japan, Resistencia has only won once (the 2019 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies) and finished second four times. On her first overseas trip last December, the bay mare competed in the Hong Kong Sprint, and although she was surely affected by the horrific accident in that race, she again finished in second place. within one length of the winner. Racing for the first time since returning to Japan, Resistencia is set to see a new partner in 23-year-old jockey Takeshi Yokoyama, who notched an astonishing five Grade 1 victories last year.
Meikei screams: A 4-year-old daughter of Mikki Isle, Meikei Yell has five wins (three over 1,200 metres) out of her nine starts and is entering her fourth year 1. She finished fourth in last year’s Sprinters Stakes, where she followed Resistencia on the line by almost three lengths, but was ahead of Danon Smash. Coming back from the Sprinters Stakes, she took her first race on the left and won the Grade 3 Silk Road Stakes. Trainer Hidenori Take attributes the victory in large part to equipment changes which helped calm the excitable filly.
“I plan to run her with the same equipment as last time. She is eating well and calmer now. I feel she understands a lot more now,” the trainer commented.
Salios: Salios returns to the track after a third-place finish at the Hong Kong Mile in December, and this time it will be his first 1,200-meter run. The son of Heart’s Cry has competed in all eight Grade 1 events so far, but has only won one: the 2019 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes. 2020 Satsuki Sho (2000 Japanese Guineas) and Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby). Given his record, the 5-year-old would seem an unlikely candidate for a sprint, but trainer Noriyuki Hori thinks the horse has a good chance here.
“His innate trait was one of the reasons I decided to bring him here. His body type and footwork both lend themselves to short distances,” the coach said.
Diatonic: Third in the 2020 Takamatsunomiya Kinen, Lord Kanaloa’s sire Diatonic followed with a promising win in the Grade 3 Hakodate Sprint Stakes over the same distance. He faced the Sprinters Stakes in the fall, where interference factored into his 13th place finish, but later it was also discovered he had suffered a broken bone. Diatonic returned 11 months later in the Grade 3 Keeneland Cup, before taking another four months off. He returned to the track in January this year and won the Grade 3 Hankyu Hai in February. Coach Takayuki Yasuda, who also coached Lord Kanaloa, is cautiously optimistic, saying the 7-year-old has improved since his last start.
“I think 1,200 meters is his best distance. This time it’s a Grade 1 and the competition is stronger, so we’ll enter as a challenger. I want him to get off to a good start.
Constable: With six wins out of his 27 starts, the American-bred Gendarme is entering his sixth Grade 1 at the age of 7. a 2 year old child. His trainer Yasutoshi Ikee has gradually shortened his distance, and in his last six starts over the past year (all at 1,200 meters), Gendarme has won two, his last in the Grade 3 Ocean Stakes earlier this month in Nakayama. .
Naran Huleg: 6-year-old son of dirt champion Gold Allure, Naran Huleg has been very reliable since last fall. He has not missed the Top 3 in his last four starts including two 3rd year events. He’s yet to win a graduated-stakes race, but he’s come close and is back to his best trip ever, a left-handed 1,200-meter turf race.
Crossing: Surprise fourth as the 16th pick in last year’s Takamatsunomiya Kinen, Travesura has had just two starts since then, but finished second in both races over 1,400 meters – including the last outing in the Grade 3 Ocean Stakes. It’s definitely a long shot, but if he could pull off a win this time around, it wouldn’t just be his first Grade 1 win, but also the first for trainer Yasuyuki Takahashi and expected jockey Katsuma Samejima.
lotus land: Also worth mentioning is the 5-year-old American mare Lotus Land. Proven consistent over 1,600 to 1,800 meters with six wins and three seconds from her 13 starts, she returned from a three-month layoff after the Mile Championship and managed to top the Kyoto Himba Grade 3 Stakes last month in of his first trip over 1,400 meters. She looks light on the job and in great shape for her first 1,200 meter run.