Shuka Sho (G1) - Preview
Kyoto Racecourse hosts the Grade 1 action this week as the fillies wrap up their triple crown with the Shuka Sho, this year in its 22nd running.
Soul Stirring, victor in the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks), won’t be in the lineup having opted for the Mainichi Okan, but two other Grade 1 winners are amid the 25 nominees – NHK Mile Cup champion Aerolithe and Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) winner Reine Minoru. Landing the Shuka Sho would most likely give either one the title for 3-year-old Filly of the Year award.
The top three finishers of the Grade 2 Kansai Telecasting Corp. Sho Rose Stakes – Rabbit Run, Kawakita Enka, and Lys Gracieux – qualified for the Shuka Sho as did the top two finishers of the Shion Stakes – Deirdre and Caribbean Gold.
The Shuka Sho, run over 2,000 meters of turf at Kyoto Racecourse and paying 92 million yen to the winner, was established in 1996, when the Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup was opened to older fillies and mares. The race won international Grade 1 status in 2009.
The race is run over the inner course and starts in front of the stands, with little ground before the full gate of 18 meets the first two corners. One thousand meters out, the backstretch rises, then descends again on the run toward home, which is just short of 330 meters.
All fillies will carry a set weight of 55kgs. Mikki Queen holds the race record of 1 minute, 56.9 seconds she set in 2015. The Shuka Sho is the 11th race on Sunday’s card of 12 at Kyoto. Post time is 15:40 local time.
Here’s a look at the expected top choices in this year’s Shuka Sho.
Aerolithe: Aerolithe followed in sire Kurofune’s footsteps when she clinched the NHK Mile Cup in May before she was given a furlong more and went wire-to-wire to win the Grade 3 Queen Stakes at Sapporo at the end of July. Aerolite is taking on her first race at 2,000 meters and, admittedly, the Queen Stakes (1,800 meters) saw her racing under only 52 kg, 3 kg less than she’ll have on Sunday. Still, 2,000 meters is a distance Kurofune won over three times, including at the Grade 3 level, so it shouldn’t be out of her reach, especially given that she can run successfully from further back as well. A brisk pace would stand her well as Aerolithe has proven that she can stand the heat in the frontlines. If the race comes down to late speed, however, she may be at a disadvantage. Aerolithe, along with Deirdre, may be breeder Northern Farm’s ace from seven fillies nominated for chasing down their eighth Grade 1 victory of the year. Those seven also include Mirissa, sister to 2016 Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) champion Sinhalite. Mirissa ran fourth in the Rose Stakes, an 1,800-meter Grade 2 at Hanshin on Sept. 17, and is partnered with Yuichi Fukunaga, who won the Shuka Sho aboard Vivlos last year.
Aerolithe winning the Hokkaido Shimbun Hai Queen Stakes (G3) in July, picture Japan Racing Association
Rabbit Run: The American-bred Rabbit Run, one of three fillies nominated by trainer Katsuhiko Sumii, is making her top-level debut after her surprise win of the Rose Stakes. Though the mystery surrounding her is much of her allure, the Tapit-sired Rabbit Run is not considered to be a flash in the pan. In the Rose Stakes, she once again displayed her fine late kick to grab first from the front-running Kawakita Enka after a long drive home from only four off the rear. Like Aerolithe, Rabbit Run will be moving to 2,000 meters for the first time and experiencing four turns for the first time as well, but is expected to handle both well.
Fan Dii Na: A big-striding, big Deep Impact filly, Fan Dii Na weighed in at 526kg for her Rose Stakes run last out. That was coming off a 5-month layoff and ended in sixth place, but improvement can be expected with one race under her belt. Fan Dii Na’s race prior was the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) and she put in a decent showing amid the colts to finish 0.5 seconds and some 2 1/2 lengths off the winner. Though she has yet to win over 2,000 meters in her short five-race career, Fan Dii Na has won at Kyoto over 1,800 meters. With her size and big stride, Fan Dii Na is likely suited to a more wide-open course, but if she can run on or close to the pace, she should be in contention.
Lys Gracieux: Runnerup in the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) and fifth in the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks), Lys Gracieux has made the board in all of her starts, including two wins, two seconds and two thirds. A consistent runner, she has, however, failed to make the winner’s circle since last October. Following a 5-month spell, the daughter of Heart’s Cry returned to the track for the Rose Stakes and finished third, 2 lengths behind Rabbit Run. Though she is known to be a light eater, Lys Gracieux looks to have filled out a bit. She has always had good racing sense and has matured further mentally. She is reported to be less high strung than earlier, enough to hopefully help her keep calm in front of the grandstand, where the race will begin.
Other runners considered good chances to make the money include two Harbinger fillies –Shion Stakes winner Deirdre and Oaks runnerup Mozu Katchan. Deidre returned to racing after her fourth in the Yushun Himba to win a conditions race at Sapporo in August, then followed that with the Grade 3, 2,000-meter Shion Stakes at Nakayama Racecourse in September. Experienced at the distance, it will be her first 2,000 meters at Kyoto, but she has won at the venue over 1,800 meters and will have ace rider Christophe Lemaire for support.
Mozu Katchan, with a win over 2,000 meters at the Grade 2 level and her second in the Yushun Himba, is one filly for whom an extra furlong on her Rose Stakes’ seventh-place run should prove a plus. That race was her first in four months and improvement is certain. Key will be whether this high-strung girl can keep her cool. Mirco Demuro is pegged for the ride and looking to bag his fourth Grade 1 win this year and the third in a row following his wins of the Takarazuka Kinen and the Sprinters Stakes. The competition above the saddle is as heated as it is below this Sunday, with Demuro tied with Lemaire for three Grade 1 wins in Japan this year.
Rose Stakes runnerup Kawakita Enka will take on 2,000 meters for the first time and her front-running style may put her at a disadvantage, but with first-time partner Yuichi Kitamura up, it may be her time in the spotlight. If the ground is soft on Sunday, Kawakita Enka is worth a serious look.
Oka Sho champion Reine Minoru has fallen out of grace after running 13th place in the Oaks, followed by a ninth in the Rose Stakes, not a promising start to either her fall campaign or for her Shuka Sho bid. The Daiwa Major-sired filly had made the board in her seven starts through the Oka Sho, all at the mile or less. Whether it was the distance or due to her 5-month layoff, her poor showing in her last two starts will undoubtedly have the odds up on her this Sunday.