The big race this coming Sunday (May 30) is certainly one of the biggest of the year, when the Grade 1 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) will be run at Tokyo Racecourse, following on from the fillies in the Grade 1 Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) last week. The second leg of the Triple Crown once again looks an exciting prospect, with the colt Efforia poised to become the 25th horse in Japanese racing history to follow up a win in the Grade 1 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) with a victory in the second of the colts' Classics. He is also bidding to become just the eighth horse to win the first two Triple Crown races as an unbeaten colt. He will once again need to be at the top of his game, with so much emerging talent just waiting in the wings.
The Grade 1 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) was first run in 1932, and with there being no race held in 1945 and 1946, this year marks the 88th running of the race, and it's run over 2,400 meters on the turf track, with the start just in front of the grandstands. This year, once again unfortunately, only limited numbers will be permitted at the course to witness one of the big highlights of the racing year.
This year's race has attracted 18 nominations, but with a recent injury ruling out last year's Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes winner Danon the Kid, it's looking like the number of runners will be 17, if all the others stand their ground. There is one filly among the nominations, Satono Reinas, and she is attempting to become just the fourth filly to win, after Vodka in 2007 was the last one to break a 64- year domination for the colts. The top five finishers in the Grade 1 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) all receive automatic entry into the Derby, and all five are among the entries this year. All horses carry a set weight of 57kg, with just Satono Reinas able to claim a 2kg allowance.
For the last nine years, the race has been run on good to firm ground, but with Japan's rainy season kicking in early, things could be different this time. Four first favorites have won in the past ten years, with Contrail the latest just last year. Apart from the Grade 1 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas), other lead up races have included the Grade 2 TV Tokyo Hai Aoba Sho, run in May over the course and distance of the Derby, and the Grade 2 Kyoto Shimbun Hai, this year run at Chukyo over 2,200 meters also in May. Prize money this year amounts to a total of JPY 432 million, with JPY 200 million (just under USD 2 million) going to the winner. Record time for the race was set by the big outsider, Roger Barows, in 2019, when he shocked everyone by not only winning, but also stopping the clock in a time of 2 minutes 22.6 seconds.
The Grade 1 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) will be Race 11 on the Sunday card at Tokyo, with a post time locally of 15:40. The final declarations and barrier draw will be announced later in the week.
Here's a look at some of the runners expected to take on this year's race:
Efforia : Unbeaten in his four career starts so far, the son of Epiphaneia is a strong candidate to carry off a victory here, after his emphatic win in the Grade1 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) last time. He has already won twice at Tokyo, and it's a fact that good horses can come out on top at any track. Trainer Yuichi Shikato said, "I was a bit concerned by the ground in his last race, but he showed what class he has, and he just seems to be getting better with every race. The Tokyo 2,400 meters will suit his running style." The trainer is looking for just his third JRA Grade 1 success, and a lot rests on the shoulders of young jockey Takeshi Yokoyama, who will want to notch just his second top-level win aboard Efforia.
Satono Reinas : Connections have decided to take on the Derby with the Deep Impact filly, and while she looks well suited to the course and distance, taking on and overcoming the colts always seems like a tough assignment. "In the Oka Sho she drew a wide gate, which kept her wide for most of the race, and that was all that was in it between her and the winner. I think of her as a horse that can stay further, and so with the weight allowance she'll get this time, it's been decided that she'll go up against the colts here," said trainer Sakae Kunieda. Satono Reinas will be ridden by jockey Christophe Lemaire, who has ridden her in all her races so far.
Wonderful Town : The son of Rulership looks to be going in the right direction after his latest win in the Grade 2 TV Tokyo Hai Aoba Sho over the Derby course and distance in May. He's now won his last two races. Trainer Yoshitada Takahashi said, "Due to hoof problems, he couldn't run in the Satsuki Sho, so the Aoba Sho became his next target, and after his good win in that race, we're able to look to this next one with him. He's a horse with a big stride and these longer distances suit him." Jockey Ryuji Wada has struck up a good partnership with the horse, and will ride him again this time too.
Titleholder : Second to Efforia in the Grade 1 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas), it might be hard to reverse the placings after the latter's strong victory, but Titleholder has only been unplaced once in his five career races, and it's easy to see him being competitive once more. Trainer Toru Kurita said, "Since his last race, he's been at the farm, and he came back to the stable on May 6. Just recently we've been getting him ready once more, and he'll do some stronger work with his race jockey a week before the race."
Shahryar : A colt by Deep Impact, Shahryar has only had the three races, but he's coming off a win in record time in the Grade 3 Mainichi Hai over 1,800 meters at Hanshin in March, and he was third to Efforia back in February in the Grade 3 Kyodo News Hai (Tokinominoru Kinen) over 1,800 meters at Tokyo. Assistant trainer Nobuyuki Tashiro stated: "It was a good win in his last race, with a very fast time, showing how good his reactions are. It became clear that a run in the Derby would be his next target."
Stella Veloce : The colt by Bago has been just a little unlucky in his races, finishing behind Efforia in two of his runs, but he looks to have enough talent to make his presence felt in Grade 1 races. Trainer Naosuke Sugai commented: "The inside draw last time was about the only negative thing in his Satsuki Sho run. With the extended distance and a wider track this time, he should have no problem in adjusting to how the race is run." Jockey Hayato Yoshida looks set to take the ride on Stella Veloce.
Great Magician : A horse that just made his debut last November as a 2-year-old, Great Magician has two wins from three starts, and those wins have come at Tokyo, both over 1,800 meters. He's coming off a second-place finish to Shahryar in the Grade 3 Mainichi Hai, a performance that quite impressed his trainer, Keisuke Miyata. "It was a fast run race last time, but he got a good forward position, and just at the finish he possibly lost a bit of concentration. Nevertheless, I could rate him just about the same as the winner," said the trainer, who is looking for his first Grade 1 victory.
Red Genesis : A runner for the Tokyo Horse Racing Co. Ltd., Red Genesis is another among the entries by Deep Impact, and he comes to the race after winning the Grade 2 Kyoto Shimbun Hai, this year run at Chukyo over 2,200 meters in May. That was his first graded race win of his three victories to date, and his development is taking trainer Yasuo Tomomichi a little by surprise. "Jockey Yuga Kawada has taught the horse to great effect, and it's clear to see in the horse's races. I thought he'd be a horse to look to come the autumn, but he's maturing a lot faster than I would have expected," commented the trainer recently.