Kyoto Racecourse hosts the Grade 1 Shuka Sho this Sunday, Oct. 18. The 2,000-meter Shuka Sho is the final leg of Japan's fillies triple crown, which starts in the spring with the mile-long Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) and the 2,400-meter Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks).
This year, 21 fillies have been nominated for the 18 berths of the classic race, run on the turf over the Kyoto inner course. Six of the nominees are tied for the final three spots, which will be chosen by lottery.
With the relaxing of Covid-19 measures from last weekend and limited admission now permitted to JRA racetracks, the Shuka Sho will be only the second Grade 1 race this year to be held with racing fans in the stands, and the first Grade 1 since the February Stakes.
The 25th running of the Shuka Sho will also be one of the last top-level races to be held in view of the present Kyoto grandstand, which was built 40 years ago. Renovations on the stand and the course are scheduled to start just after the Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger) on November 1 and are expected to last for more than 2 years.
Amid so many historical moments, nothing would be more fitting than to see the crowning of a filly triple crown champion this Sunday. And that could well happen if the unbeaten Daring Tact holds tight to her pristine race record. If Daring Tact can top the field once again, she'll become only the sixth filly to sweep the classics and the first to do it unbeaten.
All fillies in the Shuka Sho carry 55 kg and first place carries a prize of JPY 100 million. The Shuka Sho is the 11th race on Kyoto's Sunday card of 12. Post time is 3:40 p.m.
Here's a look at some of the expected top choices.
Daring Tact – By Ephiphaneia, out of Daring Bird, Daring Tact is returning to the track straight from her run in the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) at Tokyo in late May. But trainer Haruki Sugiyama says that's the way he planned it and that his prize filly is in winning shape. With her late-closing style, Daring Tact grabbed the Oaks victory with blistering late speed and a final three-furlong time of 33.1 seconds, the fastest in the race's history. The shorter distance overall and the much shorter homestretch of Kyoto is not expected to pose a problem. And, in light of her Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) win over heavy going, neither should a slower track. "The jockey rode her on the flat last week," says Sugiyama. "She worked alone and we focused on her balance. She was well-balanced and relaxed. Her breathing was good too." Sugiyama also says Daring Tact has filled out (she already weighed in at nearly 470 kg for the Oaks) and that she has also matured mentally. Regular rider Kohei Matsuyama is expected in the saddle.
Ria Amelia – Another big girl is Ria Amelia, a dark bay Ritto-based filly by Deep Impact who ran fourth in the Oaks, 0.3 seconds behind Daring Tact. She was a bit slow out of the gate, and it was also her first time over anything but the mile. Last out, on Sept. 20, however, she captured the Grade 2 Kansai Telecasting Corp. Sho Rose Stakes over 2,000 meters at Chukyo. This will be her first time at Kyoto, but she showed, in her winning debut at Hanshin, that she can handle a righthanded track, and her winning style in the Rose Stakes bodes particularly well for the Kyoto course.
Maltese Diosa – The jet-black Maltese Diosa, a daughter of Kizuna, failed to make the board in the spring filly classics but she returned in mid-September up 12 kg and captured the Grade 3 Shion Stakes over 2,000 meters at Nakayama beating out a number of Shuka Sho nominees along the way, including Win Mighty and Pallas Athena. Second in the Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies and winner of the Grade 2 Tulip Sho, Maltese Diosa has always held her own over the mile but the Shion Stakes showed she can go a bit farther too. It will be her first time at Kyoto but the inner track should suit. Based at Miho, Maltese Diosa has traveled to Hanshin three times before and the trip shouldn't spell trouble.
Win Mighty – A dark gray filly by Goldship, Win Mighty returned from her third-place finish in the Oaks (0.2 seconds behind Daring Tact) to run sixth in the Shion Stakes. She had not started good and was forced to race from behind, then was pushed wide at a critical point. Despite the poor trip, she gained ground to finish but 0.3 seconds off the winner. Win Mighty had gone to the Oaks off a win of the Wasurenagusa Sho, a listed race over 2,000 meters that was run in the rain over a slightly heavy track, so rain would not be a strike against her.
Win Marilyn – A chestnut filly by Screen Hero, Win Marilyn is a stablemate to Maltese Diosa and will be taking her first trip westward. Only her second Grade 1 bid, Win Marilyn won the 2,000-meter Grade 2 Sankei Sports Sho Flora Stakes at Tokyo before going to the Oaks, where she missed the win by a mere half-length. She had drawn the No. 16 gate but Norihiro Yokoyama leveled the playing field by bringing her in to the rail by the second turn and she did manage to reach the top momentarily just before the finish line. Keen racing sense and back at her preferred distance, Win Marilyn is one to watch out for. Norihiro's son Takeshi Yokoyama, who rode Win Marilyn in all her three wins, is expected to be back in the saddle and gunning for his first big win in his still young career.
Others to watch are Pallas Athena, Miyamazakura and Lei Papale.
Pallas Athena, by Rulership, debuted this January and, with six starts behind her, has proven consistent with two wins, two seconds and nothing off the board. She ran second to Maltese Diosa in the Shion Stakes.
The Deep Impact-sired Miyamazakura was seventh in the Oaks and fifth in the Oka Sho. She returns unprepped but, given her Grade 3 second place over the Kyoto 2,000, should not be written off.
Lei Papale is one of the six whose spot in the Shuka Sho will depend on the luck of the draw. She debuted at Kyoto this January and has only had three starts, all of them winning ones. In her last outing, an 1,800-meter at Niigata, she went up against male and older horses, but topped the field by two lengths, with a time of 33.2 seconds over the final three furlongs. She was, however, carrying only 52 kg (5 kg less than the runnerup) and this will be her first time under 55 kg. It will also be her first time over the distance. Regular rider Yuga Kawada is expected to partner Ria Amelia and Christophe Lemaire is ready to take the reins if Lei Papale makes the final cut.