Following hot on the hooves of the fillies in last week’s Grade 1 Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks), it’s the turn of the colts to show what they’re made of in the Grade 1 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) on Sunday, May 26 at Tokyo Racecourse. A race that really draws in the crowds, this year’s Derby looks to be a real thriller, with Saturnalia putting his unbeaten record on the line, and a number of other top quality horses looking to find a way to overturn his dominance. There have been 25 nominations for the 86th running of the race, including the runner up and the third-place runner to Saturnalia in the Grade 1 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas). The maximum number of runners is set at 18, and it looks like there will be a full gate of 3-year-olds to take on the race, run over 2,400 meters on the turf course at Tokyo Racecourse. All colts will carry a set weight of 57kg.
Some great horses have claimed the Derby over the years, but Triple Crown winners have been in fairly short supply (only seven in all), and the last one to claim all three of the colts’ Classics was Orfevre in 2011. Duramente was the last horse to win the first two legs (23 horses have achieved this feat) back in 2015. The latter was also the last favorite to win the Derby, as well as being the current record holder for the race when it comes to time, stopping the clock in 2 minutes, 23.2 seconds. Only two other favorites have won in the last 10 years.
Some of the races leading up to this year’s Derby have been the Grade 2 Kyoto Shimbun Hai, run over 2,200 meters in May, Grade 2 TV Tokyo Hai Aoba Sho (an official Derby trial), run over 2,400 meters at Tokyo in April, and a number of runners are coming off runs in the Grade 1 Satsuki Sho over 2,000 meters at Nakayama in April. This year’s Derby is worth JPY200 million to the winner, out of a total of JPY432 million in prize money. The big race will be Race 11 on the card at Tokyo on Sunday, with a post time of 15:40 local time. Final declarations and barrier draw will come out later in the week. Here’s a look at some of the colts expected to take on this year’s Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby):
Saturnalia: If you could create a horse with a pedigree that contained so many great horses from the past, it would be Saturnalia. His biggest test is now before him, and only time will tell if he gets to maintain his unbeaten record, a record that has seen him win four times from four starts, and has seen him start favorite every time. He didn’t win so convincingly last time, but there’s still confidence behind the horse. “He did lean a bit in the closing stages last time, but there are still things to work on with him. It’s no easy thing to win a Classic race, but he showed he has the ability and power to do so,” said assistant trainer Yasuyuki Tsujino. Trainer Katsuhiko Sumii has 25 JRA Grade 1 wins, including a Derby victory with Vodka in 2007.
Saturnalia winning the 2000 Guineas, picture Japan Racing Association
Velox: The colt by Just a Way lost out by just a neck last time to Saturnalia, and the two horses did come close together as they battled it out to the line. It could turn out to be different this time, as Velox bids for revenge. The horse carries the colors of Kaneko Makoto Holdings Co. Ltd., and the well-respected owner has already won the Derby four times, including last year with Wagnerian. Teruhiko Saruhashi, assistant trainer at the stable, commented: “He ran a strong race last time and was slightly hampered on the run to the line. Since his last run, he’s been at the stable, and we’ve been able to work him strongly, so I think he’s going to come on for this.”
Danon Kingly: The Deep Impact colt only just went down to the first two home in the Satsuki Sho, and before that showed a lot of talent by winning his other three races, two of them at Tokyo. The dark bay is trained by Kiyoshi Hagiwara, who sent out Normcore to win the Grade 1 Victoria Mile recently. Danon Kingly has been ridden by Keita Tosaki in all his races, and the jockey will be hoping the colt can give him his first Derby win. The trainer said, “After his third in the Satsuki Sho, he went to the farm. He wasn’t showing any signs of tiredness and has done work while at the farm. Since coming back to Miho on May 8, we’ve been able to work him as expected.”
Lion Lion: Bred by Northern Racing, the Rulership colt would seem to be on the up, winning his last two races under jockey Norihiro Yokoyama, the latest of which was the Derby trial, the Grade 2 TV Tokyo Hai Aoba Sho, over the course and distance of the Derby. The horse is trained by Mikio Matsunaga, and the handler said, “The horse is looking good, and with the jockey riding him skillfully, we’re able to look to a Classic race with him. When he raced at Chukyo he found a good rhythm up front, but last time in the Aoba Sho he was able to have the rest of the field quite strung out and showed a lot of power.”
Admire Justa: The colt finished eighth in the Satsuki Sho and that’s been the only time he’s finished out of the top two in six career races, which have included two wins. Second to Saturnalia in last year’s Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes, the Just a Way colt would seem to be a real threat over the extended Derby distance. Trainer Naosuke Sugai said: “He raced from well back in the Satsuki Sho, but the margin at the end was not so big. He’s had a break at the farm and has come back looking fine. He seems a lot better now than when he was a 2-year-old.”
Run for the Roses: From the all-powerful stable of trainer Kazuo Fujisawa, the King Kamehameha colt has finished second three times in four starts, the latest when going down by a nose to Lion Lion in the Grade 2 TV Tokyo Hai Aoba Sho. He has won at Tokyo over 2,000 meters. Assistant trainer Daisuke Tsumagari said, “He got into a good early position last time, but the problem was that in the homestraight he didn’t have other horses on either side of him and he lost concentration a little. I think he would have done better if this wasn’t the case. It’s good that he’s run over the same course and distance as the Derby.”
Red Genial: The Shadai Farm bred Red Genial is coming off a win in the Grade 2 Kyoto Shimbun Hai in May. He has only raced at Kyoto or Hanshin, so it will be the first time for him to race left-handed, as well as tackling the Tokyo track. Trained by Yoshitada Takahashi, an assistant at the stable commented: “He’s still a bit of a baby, but last time he was more relaxed than usual, and he showed good footwork at the end to win the race. I think as he matures more, he’ll become a better horse.”