By Nicholas Godfrey
Japan: Star colt Contrail (Yoshito Yahagi/Yuichi Fukunaga) is sure to start hot favourite as he defends his unbeaten record in Sunday’s Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby), the world’s most valuable Classic.
In a rematch Japan has been waiting for, the brilliant son of Deep Impact bids to confirm superiority over arch-rival Salios (Noriyuki Hori/Damian Lane) in the ¥432 million (£3.26m) event at Tokyo racecourse (7.40am BST).
The pair were separated by only a half-length after their stirring battle for the Satsuki Sho (2,000 Guineas) on April 19, when Contrail circled six wide before overwhelming his fellow G1-winning opponent.
Drawn five in a maximum 18-runner field for the Yushun, he is bidding to become the 24th horse to win the first two legs of the Japanese Triple Crown.
Salios’s rider Damian Lane is hoping the extra two furlongs on Sunday will help the Heart’s Cry colt turn the tables on the favourite. “His final piece of work was very good and he was full of running, particularly at the finish,” the Australian rider told the Japan Racing Association.
The two principals are by no means the only horses coming on from the Satsuki Sho. Indeed, the first ten home in that 1m2f contest are back for more, among them Galore Creek (Hiroyuki Uehara/Yuga Kawada), who was four lengths behind the winner at Nakayama.
Better fancied this time is fifth-placed Satono Flag (Sakae Kunieda/Yutaka Take); his Yayoi Sho victim Wakea (Takahisa Tezuka/Christophe Lemaire), twice a winner at this venue, will also get each-way support.
Tokyo Yushun betting
William Hill: 4-7 Contrail, 3 Salios, 12 Satono Flag, 16 Galore Creek, Wakea, 25 Deep Bond, 33 bar.
Shall we talk about it?
“I think the way he won last time showed how good he’s become, getting gradually better since last year. I know him well and he doesn’t give me anything to worry about, whether it’s before or during the race. I hope he can be this year’s Derby champion.”
Yuichi Fukunaga (jockey)
“He’s a tough horse, but didn’t quite match up to them in the Satsuki Sho, although he won last time. He’ll take on some of the horses he lost to two starts ago, but I think he’s strong enough now to do it. The long straight at Tokyo will suit the way he runs.”
Ryuji Okubo (trainer)
“He had a short break at the farm after his last race and has come back refreshed. He’s a big horse with a stride to match, so everything about the Tokyo course goes in his favour. On his dam’s side, the distance looks fine.”
Hiroyuki Uehara (trainer)
“It was a difficult race last time, and he didn’t change leads in the home straight, as well as not getting the best ground, making things tough for him. It left him a bit tired after the race, but we’ve kept him at the stable since and there’s a sharpness about him now.”
Noriyuki Hori (trainer)
“He ran pretty well last time, despite having a slight tendency to incline his neck. He wasn’t beaten by much. I think with his win last year at Tokyo in record time, and with the distance this time, he won’t be far away.”
Sakae Kunieda (trainer)
• More about Japanese racing at the JRA website