Tokyo Racecourse wraps up five straight weeks of top-level action this Sunday, June 7 with the Yasuda Kinen, a Grade 1 mile event over turf boasting a purse of nearly JPY282 million and a winner's prize of 130 million.
Along with the Grade 1 Mile Championship in the fall, the Yasuda Kinen weighs heavy in determining Japan's top miler of the year. Open to both sexes 3-year-olds and up, the race is sure to draw the best and this year is no exception, even with measures still in effect to combat the spread of COVID-19. It's a brilliant lineup that will, if all nominees run, feature a record eleven Grade 1 champions, with both sprint and mile aces in the mix.
Seventeen horses (one shy of a full gate), ranging in age from 4 to 8 and including three females, have been nominated for the 70th running of the Yasuda. The hands-down headliner is the seven-time Grade 1 champion mare Almond Eye, just off a win of the Victoria Mile over the same course. Indy Champ, who captured both the Yasuda and the Mile Championship last year, is back, and taking on his first Yasuda Kinen is mile specialist Admire Mars, with three top-level victories over the distance, including the Hong Kong Mile at Sha Tin Racecourse last December.
Last year, Indy Champ set the current race record of 1 minute 30.9 seconds. Normcore holds the course record with her time of 1 minute 30.5 seconds set last year in the Victoria Mile. The weights for the Yasuda Kinen are set, with males carrying 58 kg, females 56 kg.
The draw for the Yasuda Kinen will be announced on Friday. The race is the 11th on the Sunday card of 12 at Tokyo. Post time is 15:40.
Here's a more in-depth look at the expected popular picks :
Almond Eye – Japan's stupendous mare Almond Eye, is winner of six Grade 1s in Japan. Just like her sprint champion sire Lord Kanaloa is already an international success, she has one Grade 1 win notched in March 2019 in Dubai. Chances are good her wins abroad would have numbered more if luck had been on her side. After winning the Tenno Sho (Autumn) last year, Almond Eye was headed for Hong Kong, but her trip was cancelled when she briefly ran a temperature. After a poor showing in the Grade 1 Arima Kinen (The Grand Prix), then was again aimed at Dubai. But, after arriving for the March 28 Dubai World Cup Day, the global pandemic led to the cancellation of races. Her successful bid in the Victoria Mile on May 17 has been her only race this year. Almond Eye has notched five wins out of six outings at Tokyo, the only blemish being last year's Yasuda, when interference at the start likely took a toll. Unlike last year, when Almond Eye had three months between her winning run in Dubai and the Yasuda, this year she has but three weeks. If she can capture the Yasuda Kinen, Almond Eye will become, after Vodka, only the second female to win seven JRA Grade 1s. The jockey Christophe Lemaire is gunning for his fourth Grade 1 victory this year.
Indy Champ – Mile specialist and two-time G1 winner Indy Champ, a 5-year-old by Stay Gold, aced both the Yasuda Kinen and the Mile Championship last year, before finishing seventh in the Hong Kong Mile. With eight wins in 15 starts, Indy Champ has had two starts this year since returning from Hong Kong and won the Yomiuri Milers Cup at Kyoto on April 26, the same prep he had last year for the Yasuda (last year he ran fourth in the prep). He and Almond Eye will meet again for the second time. It'll be interesting to see, if both get a smooth trip home, where they stand at the finish line. Yuichi Fukunaga, just off his second Derby win, is expected in the saddle.
Danon Kingly – A 4-year-old colt by Deep Impact, Danon Kingly has never missed the board and has had only one finish out of the top in his nine outings thus far. He aced his debut at Tokyo and his next start, both over the mile, but afterward all but one of his next seven races (including a third in the Satsuki Sho and a second in the Japanese Derby) were in the 1,800-2,400 meters range. The one that wasn't was the Mile Championship last year, in which he finished fifth 0.4 seconds off winner Indy Champ. He has notched nine-furlong races such as the Grade 3 Kyodo News Hai (Tokinominoru Kinen) and the Grade 2 Mainichi Okan at Tokyo, and the Tokyo mile also should be well within his ability. In addition, Keita Tosaki, who had been the colt's regular rider until an accident took him out of action shortly before the Mile Championship, returned to work on May 23 and is expected back with his old partner for the Yasuda.
Admire Mars – The 4-year-old Admire Mars, by Daiwa Major, has won three top-level races over the mile and is making a bid for the Yasuda Kinen for his first time. He has, however, not raced in six months, not since his win at Sha Tin in the Hong Kong Mile on Dec. 8. The last time he ran without a prep was over the Tokyo mile in the Fuji Stakes prior to his Hong Kong trip and, as race favorite, disappointed in ninth place 0.7 seconds off the winner. However, this year the plan was to race at Meydan on March 28 and Admire Mars was among the 20 Japan-based horses that had already arrived in Dubai only to have their races cancelled. He is looking fit in track work and the time off is not expected to have serious repercussions. Yuga Kawada, currently neck and neck with Christophe Lemaire for the top spot in the jockey rankings, is expected to be up for the first time.
Danon Premium – The 5-year-old Deep Impact-sired Danon Premium swept the first four races of his career including the Grade 1 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes before being handed his first loss in the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby). He missed the top 3 only once in his six starts thereafter, and though he has taken on four more top-level events since, is still chasing his second Grade 1 victory. He is back on home turf for the first time since the Mile Championship last November and is returning from a third-place finish over sloppy ground in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Royal Randwick on April 11. Last year, after interference at the break, Danon Premium finished last of 16 runners in the Yasuda Kinen, a result that did not reflect his ability. This he proved nearly five months later by running second in both the Grade 1 2,000-meter Tenno Sho (Autumn) at Tokyo and the Mile Championship in November. Damian Lane is expected to be his new partner on Sunday.
Normcore – A 5-year-old daughter of Harbinger, Normcore captured the 2019 Victoria Mile in record time, and this year finished third four lengths behind the winner Almond Eye, but was only shy of second by a neck. She ran fourth to Admire Mars in the Hong Kong Mile last December and, like Almond Eye, is back over the Tokyo mile with only three weeks between races. Her record of winning two graded stakes over the mile at Tokyo indicates the venue is to her liking.
Gran Alegria – Last year's Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) champion and runnerup this year in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen at March end, Gran Alegria has only finished out of the top three in one of her seven starts thus far. She has four wins, three of them at the mile. Two of those, her debut in June 2018 and the Grade 3 Saudi Arabia Royal Cup that October, were at Tokyo. She returns after just over two months and her only start this year (a second in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen) to take on her first mile in over a year.
Danon Smash – went wire to wire in the Grade 2 Keio Hai Spring Cup on May 16 and the mile could be in reach if the trip suits. The odds are likely to be long on Keiai Nautique, who is 11-4-6 in his three starts this year, all at graded-stakes level and two over the mile. Last out over the Tokyo 1,400 meters, the extra furlong could help him.