The field for the Hanshin race is chosen largely by the fans and for the second year in a row, Almond Eye topped the tally with nearly 112,000 votes, but the super mare is once again taking a rain check in preparation for her autumn campaign.
A close second was triple G1 champ Lucky Lilac with over 106,000 votes, who along with two-time G1 winner Saturnalia, and the four-year-old filly Chrono Genesis comprise the trio considered most likely to take home the lion's share of the contest's ¥325 million prize-money.
In Thursday's headlines after final fast work this week, Saturnalia remained neck-and-neck with Lucky Lilac. The Lord Kanaloa four-year-old is one of three horses being fielded by the Ritto-based Katsuhiko Sumii and he heads in off only one start this year, after capping 2019 with a second in the 2500m G1 Arima Kinen.
That December effort behind Japan's Horse of the Year Lys Gracieux confirmed his ability to stay a trip in the top grade, having finished fourth in the G1 Japanese Derby (2400m) the previous May and landed a mile and a half G2 between times. Altogether, five of his six wins in nine outings have come at shorter distances, with 2000m his best. Back at that distance in March, Saturnalia captured the G2 Kinko Sho at Chukyo – Sunday's 2200m should not be an issue.
Last week, the 2019 G1 Satsuki Sho (2000m) hero worked under big-race pilot Christophe Lemaire, but this week the colt took the slope at Ritto under an assistant to Sumii and clocked a fleet 51.3s over four furlongs, with a final 200m in 12.2s.
Lucky Lilac , trained by former jockey Mikio Matsunaga, ended 2019 with a second place behind Glory Vase in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m) at Sha Tin, then started the year with a second in the 1800m G2 Nakayama Kinen. Next out, she captured the G1 Osaka Hai over 2000m at Hanshin on 5 April.
The five-year-old daughter of Triple Crown champion Orfevre has worked primarily over the woodchip flat at Ritto and Wednesday's work drew nods of approval after a six-furlong drill in 1m 22.9s with an 11.4s wrap.
Chrono Genesis, second by a neck in the Osaka Hai last time out, did much the same at Ritto on Wednesday. She worked under jockey Yuichi Kitamura and clocked 1m 22.2s over the six furlongs, with a final furlong in 11.8s.
The four-year-old filly proved herself over the Takarazuka Kinen distance when she beat a mixed field in February in the G2 Kyoto Kinen.
Other top-level performers in the field include 2018 Arima Kinen winner Blast Onepiece, 2018 Japanese Derby winner Wagnerian, 2019 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase winner Glory Vase and Kiseki, 2019 Takarazuka Kinen runner-up.
Those looking for dark horses in their shadow may like Cadenas, who blasted from far back in the Osaka Hai and covered the final three furlongs in 33.5 seconds, finishing in fourth place only 1.3 lengths off winner Lucky Lilac.
Red Genial is fresh off a fine third-place performance in the G3 Naruo Kinen (2000m) at Hanshin and would likely have done even better if he had kept his cool in the gate.