By Nicholas Godfrey
Japan: After a year of tremendous achievement on the global stage, Japanese horsemen will not be resting on their laurels in the early months of 2020 as they target a series of lucrative international prizes.
A phalanx of the nation’s top older horses, among them Almond Eye and Hong Kong heroes Admire Mars and Glory Vase, are being readied for action in Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Australia in the next couple of months.
One of the first on show will be that remarkable much-travelled racemare Deirdre, who will kick off her six-year-old campaign in a turf race on the inaugural Saudi Cup card. There may be better Japanese-trained horses than Deirdre but you would be hard pressed to find many more popular after last season’s exploits, when she added lustre to her nation’s record abroad by winning the Group 1 Nassau Stakes at Glorious Goodwood, thereby becoming the first Japanese-trained horse to win in Britain since Agnes World landed the July Cup in 2000.
Big, strong and tough, Deirdre became a flagbearer for Japan’s international ambitions in an adventurous campaign, winning admirers around the racing world with valiant efforts in Dubai (where she made the frame in the Dubai Turf for the second year in a row), Hong Kong (twice) and Ireland.
Another fully fledged international campaign is in the offing for Deirdre, stationed at Newmarket since last spring, beginning with the Neom Turf Cup, a $1 million event over 2,100 metres (1m2½f) on the Saudi Cup undercard in Riyadh on February 29.
Deirdre’s connections toyed with an ambitious crack at the $20m Saudi Cup on dirt – a probable target for fellow globetrotter, the indefatigable Ballydoyle mare Magic Wand – before deciding to stick to a more conventional option on the new turf track at King Abdulaziz racecourse, where Britain’s champion jockey Oisin Murphy is set to ride.
“Since we are aiming for the Arc as Deirdre’s ultimate target this year, we thought it would be better to stay on the turf,” explained trainer Mitsuru Hashida. “We are very fortunate to be involved in this ambitious new meeting and we are delighted to have Oisin riding again and hope we can look forward to another victory with him!”
Reflecting on Deirdre’s 2109 efforts, the trainer added: “We can’t thank Deirdre enough and we are proud of the path she has taken. Goodwood was the highlight but every race has been something special. We have unforgettable memories and it’s been a life-changing experience for everyone on the team.”
Top Japanese horses set to travel in early 2020
4yo colt (by Gold Allure) trained by Hidetaka Otonashi
Unbeaten in six career outings, the new star of the Japanese dirt scene beat the veteran Gold Dream to win the Champions Cup (former Japan Cup Dirt) at Chukyo in December. The Saudi Cup beckons, with the Dubai World Cup also likely to be on the agenda. Gold Dream is also likely to run in both, while last year’s Dubai Golden Shaheen runner-up Matera Sky is heading back to Dubai via the new $1.5m Riyadh Dirt Sprint.
5yo mare (by Lord Kanaloa) trained by Sakae Kunieda
Embellished Japan’s formidable Dubai World Cup night record last term with a brilliant performance in the Dubai Turf. Set to defend title in March, though has a few questions to answer after a couple of defeats at home.
4yo colt (by Daiwa Major) trained by Yasuo Tomomichi
Grade 1 winner at home at two and three before landing the Hong Kong Mile, the form of which looks rock solid after the runner-up Waikuku’s recent defeat of Beauty Generation at Sha Tin. Likely candidate for top mile honours – but will bid first to become Japan’s sixth Dubai Turf winner since 2007. Win Bright, twice a winner in Hong Kong last year, is also possible for the Dubai Turf, but no more than that at this stage.
5yo horse (by Deep Impact) trained by Tomohito Ozeki
Jumped into the world rankings Top Ten with brilliant 3½-length winner of the Hong Kong Vase on his most recent outing and now set to be part of an ultra-strong Japanese team for the Dubai Sheema Classic.
Loves Only You
4yo filly (by Deep Impact) trainer by Yoshito Yahagi
Last year’s Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) winner is confidently expected to take high rank this campaign, when the Arc is a long-term goal. First, though, comes the Dubai Sheema Classic for the daughter of the great Deep Impact, who represents Yoshito Yahagi, the trainer of Japan’s Horse of the Year Lys Gracieux. Oaks runner-up Curren Bouquetd’Or is also being targeted for the Sheema Classic, won in the past by the likes of Stay Gold, Heart’s Cry and Gentidonna.
5yo horse (by Deep Impact) trained by Mitusumasa Nakauchida
Japan’s champion two-year-old in 2017, he beat Lys Gracieux in G2 company last March and was knocking on the door at the top level afterwards. Big-striding type likely to decline Dubai Turf invitation as his connections are eyeing an even more ambitious target in the shape of the Longines Queen Elizabeth Stakes, highlight of The Championships meeting at Randwick in Sydney. Runner-up in G1 company on his last two outings as a five-year-old, the powerful son of Deep Impact has been installed as ante-post favourite for the A$4m contest in Sydney on April 11. Japanese visitor Kluger finished second in the 2019 Queen Elizabeth, in which the immortal Winx completed a hat-trick in Sydney’s most prestigious race on the final outing of her storied career.
6yo horse (by Frankel) trained by Yoshito Yahagi
Winner of the G1 Yasuda Kinen in 2018, the six-year-old made a smashing dirt debut on Sunday to win the G3 Negishi Stakes at Tokyo racecourse. This is the primary trial for the February Stakes on February 23, a race that habitually produces Japan’s main Dubai World Cup contender. However, trainer Yahagi said afterwards that the Doncaster Mile at Randwick on Day One of The Championships was the horse’s target.
Japan’s major international winners in 2019
Almond Eye Dubai Turf (UAE) Sakae Kunieda (trainer) Christophe Lemaire (jockey)
Win Bright QEII Cup (HK) Yoshihiro Hatakeyama, Masami Matsuoka
Deirdre Nassau Stakes (GB) Mitsuru Hashida, Oisin Murphy
Mer De Glace Caulfield Cup (Aus) Hisashi Shimizu, Damian Lane
Lys Gracieux Cox Plate (Aus) Yoshito Yahagi, Damian Lane
Win Bright Hong Kong Cup Yoshihiro Hatakeyama, Masami Matsuoka
Glory Vase Hong Kong Vase Tomohito Ozeki, Joao Moreira
Admire Mars Hong Kong Mile Yasuo Tomomichi, Christophe Soumillon