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Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) (G1) - Preview
17 May 2017 | Japan Racing Association 

Tokyo Racecourse hosts the second jewel in the fillies' triple crown, the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks), on Sunday with a heady first-place prize of 100 million yen. Twenty-three of Japan's top 3-year-old fillies have been nominated for the race and 18 of them will go to the gate for the 78th running of the classic.

Reine Minoru, winner of the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas), seeks to claim her second victory for the crown, a feat only 13 fillies have done in the past. Lys Gracieux, runnerup in both the Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies and the Oka Sho, is ripe for revenge, as is Soul Stirring, who failed to come up a winner for the first time in her career last out in the Oka Sho.

The Oaks is run over 2,400 meters of turf, a distance new to many of the runners and one shared by the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) and the Japan Cup at the same venue. The Tokyo course is known for its long homestretch of just under 530 meters and for the hill that starts 400 meters to the finish line, rises 2 meters over the next furlong and tests runners to the utmost.

The favorite has won the Oaks three times over the past 10 runnings, run second three times and third once. The race does tend to favor the top five choices, though upsets are not unknown. Ninth pick Meisho Mambo surprised when she won in 2013 and a double-digit underdog, 13th pick F T Maia ran second to Tall Poppy in 2008.

All runners carry a set weight of 55 kg. The Oaks is the 11th race on the Sunday card of 12 at Tokyo Racecourse. Post time is 15:40 local time.

Following is a look at the expected top picks.

Soul Stirring: Hanshin Juvenile Fillies champion Soul Stirring, a daughter of Frankel, suffered the first loss of her career last out, when she finished third in the Oka Sho. This filly's big stride was hampered by the slow track, although she was a mere 0.1 seconds off of the winner. Lys Gracieux and Reine Minoru, both seen as top rivals this Sunday, beat Soul Stirring in the Oka Sho. This filly is definitely no washup and she has proven herself at Tokyo, namely a win of the 1,800-meter open-class Ivy Stakes last October. She topped runnerup Persian Knight by nearly 2 lengths and that colt went on to finish second in the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas). It will be Soul Stirring's first time over the distance and her sire did excel mainly over middle distances, but 12 furlongs is still considered to be well within her ability. Christophe Lemaire, current No. 2 jockey in JRA racing, is expected to get the ride.


Soul Searching, picture Japan Racing Association

Lys Gracieux: Much like Soul Stirring, Lys Gracieux has yet to finish out of the top three spots since her debut. She broke her maiden over 1,800 meters, but all of her other five starts have been at the mile. She was second in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies just 0.2 seconds behind Soul Stirring and second in the Oka Sho, 0.1 seconds behind Reine Minoru. Lys Gracieux also has experience at Tokyo, having proven herself by winning the Grade 3 Artemis Stakes at the end of October. With Heart's Cry as her sire, the extra distance of the Oaks is seen to be a definite plus. Lys Gracieux is to be partnered with Yutaka Take.

Admire Miyabi: Following Admire Lead's victory in the Victoria Mile, owner Riichi Kondo will be seeking his second big win in as many weeks with Admire Miyabi, another Heart's Cry filly. Admire Miyabi had four wins and one second until she was handed her first major loss, a double-digit finish in the Oka Sho. Trainer Yasuo Tomomichi writes it off largely to the distance. “The mile is too short for her and the going was bad. She couldn't get traction in a number of spots in the Oka Sho and she also covered extra ground with an outside run,” Tomomichi said. Admire Miyabi has two wins from two starts at Tokyo, including her win of the Feb. 11 Grade 3 Queen Cup, in which she beat runnerup Aerolite, who went on to win the Grade 1 NHK Mile Cup at Tokyo two weeks ago in 1 minute, 32.3 seconds, the third-fastest time in the race's 22-year history. Japan's current leading rider Mirco Demuro, who rode Admire Miyabi in the Oka Sho, will once again be up in lieu of regular rider Christophe Lemaire.

Reine Minoru: Oka Sho champion Reine Minoru has only one race out of the top three spots, the Grade 3 Queen Cup. Starting her career with two wins in a row, she narrowly missed the winner's circle for her next four starts until once again claiming victory in the Oka Sho. Favoring a position on the pace, the Daiwa Major-sired Reine Minoru was not flummoxed by the slightly yielding track of the Oka Sho. A bigger concern for the Oaks is the distance. Her fourth in the 1,600-meter Queen Cup and the fact that she has never raced at distances longer than the mile indicate Reine Minoru may not be well-suited to either the track or the distance. Also, progeny of Daiwa Major have yet to win a JRA graded stakes race at distances over or including 2,000 meters. Still, Reine Minoru's forte is her speed and if she can secure a good position from the gate as she did in the Oka Sho, she may be able to hold her ground. Reine Minoru is trained by Masaru Honda, who as a jockey rode to victory in all the filly classics. Jockey Kenichi Ikezoe is looking to make it his third win of the Oaks.



Mozu Katchan, picture Japan Racing Association

Mozu Katchan: Mozu Katchan is on a three-race winning streak, the last victory being her first bid in a graded stakes race, the Grade 2 Flora Stakes, a 2,000-meter event on April 23 at Tokyo. She was advantaged by an inside draw but had a hard time getting a clear run, yet was able to top the field in a close finish that put her over the line in first by a nose ahead of Yamakatsu Grace, with Flawless Magic a neck later in third. Mozu Katchan's other four starts were all over 1,800 meters, and from them she has reaped two wins, a third and a sixth. It's not a bad performance for only having debuted last year on Christmas Eve. A jump to Grade 1 company may be asking a lot, but the Harbinger filly has improved in leaps and bounds. Trainer Ippo Sameshima believes the distance will not pose a problem. “Looking at her last start, she'll be able to settle well over 2,400 meters,” the Ritto-based Sameshima said.

Also drawing attention are Deirdre and Flawless Magic. Deirdre has yet to fare better than a third at the Grade 3 level, but her sixth in the Oka Sho was only 0.6 seconds off of the race winner and 0.2 seconds off of NHK Mile winner Aerolite, which finished fifth. By Harbinger, Deirdre displayed excellent late speed on May 7 in winning the 1,800-meter Yaguruma Sho by 2 lengths and may find Tokyo to her liking.

The Miho-based Flawless Magic finished third in the Flora Stakes, her first time racing at longer than the mile. Her last four starts, all at Tokyo, included two Grade 3 races and the Grade 2 Flora Stakes. From the four she has notched one win, one second and two thirds.
 
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