On the heels of the Sprinters Stakes, the second Grade 1 of the fall racing season takes the big action to Kyoto Racecourse this Sunday, Oct. 13, the second day of long weekends at both Kyoto and Tokyo.
Sunday's main event over Kyoto's inner course is the 24th running of the Grade 1 Shuka Sho, a classic 2,000-meter turf race for 3-year-old fillies. It's the final leg of the fillies triple crown but unlike last year, when Almond Eye swept all three races – the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) (1,600 meters), Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) (2,400 meters) and the Shuka Sho -- this year sees no battle for the triple crown.
In April, Gran Alegria captured the Oka Sho by 2 1/2 lengths at Hanshin and the next month Loves Only You topped the Oaks field by a neck at Tokyo. Neither filly will be appearing in the Shuka Sho as Gran Alegria is being sent directly straight to the Mile Championship and hoof problems have prompted connections to aim Loves Only You at the Queen Elizabeth II Cup in November.
Nonetheless, the field is still a strong one and two champs taking a pass translates to better chances for another deserving filly to get her moment in the sun. Eighteen of Japan's top fillies will vie for a 216-million yen purse and a 100-million yen winner's prize.
The Shuka Sho top choices are, naturally, largely gleaned from the Oka Sho and Oaks top finishers. Following Gran Alegria over the line in the 1,600-meter Oka Sho but still making the board were Shigeru Pink Dia, Chrono Genesis, Danon Fantasy, and Beach Samba, in that order. All are scheduled to run on Sunday. Add one more name -- Oaks runner-up Curren Bouquetd'or -- and you've got many of the top picks for the Shuka Sho.
The Shuka Sho is run over the inner Kyoto course and starts in front of the stands, with little ground before the first bend. One thousand meters out, the backstretch rises, then descends again on the run toward home, which is just under 330 meters. The race is said to favor those running on or close to the pace and those able to get an inside run. Drawing an inside gate is also considered favorable.
Here's a look at the expected top choices in this year's Shuka Sho.
Danon Fantasy : The Ritto-based Deep Impact-sired Danon Fantasy is sure to be a popular choice, if not the favorite. She claimed recognition as top-2-year-old with victory in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies (G1, 1,600) under Cristian Demuro and returned to clinch her first start of 2019 with a win of the Tulip Sho (G2, 1,600). With that, and her career record to that point of one second and four firsts in a row, she was believed a shoo-in for the Oka Sho, but came up short with a 4th-place finish 0.4 seconds behind the winner. Next out she took on the 2,400-meter Japanese Oaks, her first start longer than a mile, and though she handled the distance well enough, lacked the needed turn of foot in the final stage to make the top. She finished in fifth place, only 0.5 seconds off the winner. Returning after 4 months, she rose to expectations as race favorite in the Rose Stakes (G2, 1,800) by demonstrating that she could sit patiently and keep enough in reserve for the final drive, which took her over the line a neck ahead of Beach Samba for the win. Danon Fantasy is looking good, and though this will be her first time over the Inner Kyoto course and only her second time at the venue, where she broke her maiden over the mile, the proximity to home will be a plus. Regular rider Yuga Kawada is expected to take the reins.
Curren Bouquetd'Or : Another Deep Impact filly and stablemate to Almond Eye, Curren Bouquetd'or, has fewer wins than Danon Fantasy (2-2-2-1 out of 7 starts), but is consistently in the money and has proven herself more adept over distance. In the Japanese Oaks, her first Grade 1, she raced within striking distance of the frontrunner and was caught by an outside run by Loves Only You. Surprising as the race 12th pick, Curren Bouquetd'or finished only a neck behind the winner in second place and a full 2 1/2 lengths ahead of third-place finisher Chrono Genesis. On Sept. 7, she returned for the Shion Stakes (G3, 2,000) at Nakayama. The favorite and breaking from the No. 8 gate, she stumbled slightly but instantly recovered and was sent forward to race in second position. Leading into the stretch she was caught and passed with less than 100 meters to go, but held on to finish third only half a length behind runner-up Fairy Polka and 0.1 seconds off winner Passing Through. Though improvement is expected, this will be her first time at Kyoto, indeed her first trip west from her Miho base. Trainer Sakae Kunieda says, "I kept her at the training center and that race has sharpened her up. I don't think the Kyoto inner course will pose any problems. If she can settle nicely, I think she has every chance."
Chrono Genesis : Sired by the 2004 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe champion French-bred Bago, Chrono Genesis has finished in the top three spots in all of her six starts thus far, which include three Grade 1s. Second in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies and third in both the Oka Sho and the Oaks, Chrono Genesis's top-level bids have been frustrating ones. Though close, she has yet to win at higher than the Grade 3 level and that only once, the 1,600-meter Queen Cup in February, which gave her 37-year-old trainer Takashi Saito his very first graded-stakes win. Saito has aimed Chrono Genesis at the Shuka Sho from early on and though she has not had a prep, she has had regular work and her fast work on Oct. 2 showed her to be right on target. "She hasn't won a big win, but she has raced her heart out," says the Ritto-based Saito. "She spent the summer at Northern Farm and came back to the training center on Sept. 4 looking refreshed." Saito says returning to the track after a spell is not a problem for Chrono Genesis, and though she did win the Queen Cup with 2 months in between races, this time, with 4 1/2 months between races, will be her longest time away yet.
Contra Check : Yet another Deep Impact daughter, the Kazuo Fujisawa-trained Contra Check has three wins and only one of her six starts out of the top three. She'll be racing for the first time since her ninth-place Oaks finish. The Oaks marked her first time at Tokyo, her first time racing to the left, and with an unrelenting pace things didn't work in her favor. It will be her first time at Kyoto and she'll have to make the trip from Miho, but with her on-the-pace style, a return to a tighter track will surely be a plus. This girl has speed. She's won three times leading, twice of those over 1,800 meters, including a win in March of the Grade 3 Flower Cup by 2 1/2 lengths at Nakayama. An extra furlong should not pose a problem. Contra Check has never drawn wider than gate No. 4, however, so a wide draw may be cause for concern.
Beach Samba : The Kurofune-sired Beach Samba has one win, three seconds and a third from 7 starts. Third in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies, her next two Grade 1 starts saw her finish fifth and 15th, respectively, in the Oka Sho and Oaks. Last out and back from her summer break, she showed a bit of something new and exciting. Taking the lead turning off the backstretch in the Rose Stakes, she held her ground until the final moment when she was overtaken by Danon Fantasy. She lost by only a neck and broke her own speed record, with the top three finishers all covering the 1,800 meters in 1:44.4. It'll be her first time at Kyoto, but Ritto-based trainer Yasuo Tomomichi says, "She was really gutsy last out, lining up with the others and holding her ground. This time it'll be a furlong longer but the Kyoto inner course stretch is short and her last performance really brightens the outlook." Beach Samba is expected to be partnered with her regular rider Yuichi Fukunaga.
Two up-and-coming fillies are Espoir and Satono Damsel. Espoir, a big Orfevre chestnut from the stable of Katsuhiko Sumii has been raced exclusively in the 1,800-2,000 range. She has excellent speed and three wins (one at 2,000), and a second and a third from her five starts. She is coming off a win of the July 14 Singapore Turf Club Sho (2-wins class, 2,000) at Chukyo. Satono Damsel is a Noriyuki Hori-trained Deep Impact filly who's currently three for three. All three races have been over 1,800 meters and though it's a big jump up from the 2-wins class of the Shiroi Tokubetsu Sept. 16 at Nakayama, she's got speed and is best not ignored.Also worth a mention is the Miho-based Passing Through, with three wins from five starts and two fourths in graded-stakes company. By Rulership, she won her second race in a row with victory in the Shion Stakes, the race Deirdre won before capturing the Shuka Sho in 2017.