A star-studded field looks guaranteed this coming Sunday (June 28), when the Grade 1 Takarazuka Kinen will be run at Hanshin Racecourse, closing out the top-class action for the first half of the year here in Japan. Although the likes of Almond Eye and Fierement won't be taking on the race, the fans who vote for the horses they want to see in the line-up would be pretty satisfied to see the big names that will battle it out for the honors on Sunday.
The Takarazuka Kinen was first run in 1960, and is a race for 3-year-olds and up over 2,200 meters on the inner turf track at Hanshin. It became an international race in 1997, and although it hasn't seen too many runners from overseas, Werther from Hong Kong certainly gave it his best shot in 2018, when he finished a close second in the race. This year sees eighteen nominations for a maximum eighteen runner field, and there are no less than eight Grade 1 winners among the nominees. Four-year-olds and up carry 58kg, with a 2kg allowance for fillies and mares, and 3-year-olds get to carry 53kg, although no 3-year-old has ever won the race. One factor will be the weather leading into the weekend, as connections eye the ground condition their runners will encounter, with Japan's rainy season currently underway.
Some of the lead up races to this year's Takarazuka Kinen have included the Grade 1 Osaka Hai over 2,000 meters at Hanshin in April, the Grade 2 Kinko Sho over 2,000 meters at Chukyo in March, and the Tenno Sho (Spring) run over 3,200 meters at Kyoto in May. Only two first favorites have won in the last ten years, the last one being Gold Ship in 2014, and during the same time period, six 5-year-olds have won, and they've achieved that in the last six years, proving their recent dominance. Last year, Lys Gracieux became just the fourth filly or mare to win the Takarazuka Kinen. Record time for the race was set by Earnestly, when he won in 2 minutes 10.1 seconds in 2011. The winner this year will receive JPY 150 million, together with automatic entry to this year's Breeders' Cup at Keeneland and the Cox Plate in Australia.
Final declarations and the barrier draw will come out later in the week. The Takarazuka Kinen will be Race 11 on Sunday's card at Hanshin, with a post time of 15:40 here in Japan.
Here's a look at some of the runners expected to take part :
Saturnalia - The third pick in the fans' poll, Saturnalia comes to the race after winning the Grade 2 Kinko Sho over 2,000 meters at Chukyo in March, his only start so far this year. Last year's Grade 1 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) winner couldn't follow that up with a Derby win, but he's started 2020 in good form. Assistant trainer Takashi Kotaki said, "He was helped last time by the lack of noise due to no spectators, and everything went smoothly in the preliminaries. He adjusted well to the slow pace of the race, and ran out a comfortable winner. He's been at the farm since, but on his return to the stable, he's been his usual self as he prepares for this race." Jockey Christophe Lemaire is set to ride Saturnalia.
Lucky Lilac - This year's Grade 1 Osaka Hai winner, the 5-year-old mare by Orfevre received the most votes from the poll, excluding only Almond Eye. As she has matured, she certainly seems to be on an upward curve, as is indicated by the words of trainer Mikio Matsunaga. "After her last race, she went to Northern Farm Shigaraki, and although restrictions on movement meant I wasn't able to check on her, she has come back looking really well. Her movement is good, and she has filled out in a way that really makes her look bigger and stronger," commented the trainer. Two of Lucky Lilac's three Grade 1 wins have come with foreign jockeys in the saddle, and Mirco Demuro gets the chance to win his third Grade 1 title this year.
Chrono Genesis - The 4-year-old filly by Bago has an impressive record with five wins from ten starts, and has only been unplaced once, that being when she finished fifth in last year's Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup. Her record in top-level races speaks for itself, and she just got beaten a neck last time by Lucky Lilac. Trainer Takashi Saito believes she can run another big race. "Last time she drew a wide gate, but quickly got into a position where she settled into stride well. She finished second in the end, but showed her ability, which has definitely improved as she's gotten older. She returned from the farm on June 5, and is the type to pick up quickly in training," said the trainer. Jockey Yuichi Kitamura has ridden the filly in all her races, and that will be the case this time as well.
Blast Onepiece - A more than 50% win strike rate makes the 5-year-old's losses easier to bear, and it is interesting that he either wins or finishes out of the top three. He won his first race this year in the Grade 2 American Jockey Club Cup over 2,200 meters at Nakayama in January, but then had to settle for seventh most recently in the Grade 1 Osaka Hai in April. That last run hasn't fazed trainer Masahiro Otake too much, and he recently said: "He didn't go forward quite how I thought he might from an inside draw last time, and at the end of the race he wasn't able to get on terms with the others that had got the better ground. He's come back refreshed from his usual stay at the farm, and he's been running smoothly in training."
Glory Vase - It'll be the lightly raced 5-year-old's first race this year after Dubai was cancelled, making his last run his win in the Grade 1 Hong Kong Vase last December. He's had ten career starts for four wins, and it will be the first time for the Silk Racing Co. Ltd. owned son of Deep Impact to run at Hanshin. Trainer Tomohito Ozeki said, "He saw out quarantine at Northern Farm Tenei, and all's gone smoothly, given that he has had experience of traveling overseas before. On returning to the stable, he's been fine with the weather getting warmer, and he's been working well under race jockey Damian Lane."
Kiseki - After his bold showing in the Tenno Sho (Spring), coming back in distance could be just what the 6-year-old by Rulership needs in his quest to land another Grade 1, and break the jinx that has kept him winless since the 2017 Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger). "He broke well last time, which was a good thing, but it looked as if it was a bit difficult for him with the flow of the race passing the stands for the first time. He's had a break at the farm, and returning to the stable this time, without having to have a gate test, it's a definite plus looking ahead to the race," said assistant trainer Takashi Kotaki. This will be Kiseki's third run in the Takarazuka Kinen, and he's looking to go one better than last year's second place finish. He will once again be ridden by Yutaka Take.Stiffelio - The resurgence in form of the 6-year-old by Stay Gold was eye-catching last time, when he almost won the Tenno Sho (Spring) at very big odds. He finished seventh in the Takarazuka Kinen last year, and with the form he's in, he looks capable of running a bigger race this time around. Trainer Hidetaka Otonashi, who won the race in 2018 with Mikki Rocket, thinks he's found the key to him running better. "I wasn't sure he could stay the 3,200 meters in the Tenno Sho, but he showed he could. Since the All Comers last autumn, he hadn't been getting good results, but from two starts ago in the Nikkei Sho, he's settled into rhythm well in the first half of the race and it seems to have made a difference," said the trainer.