March 27 is the start date for Japan’s spring big-name races, a dazzling lineup of Class 1 events that will continue weekly with almost no interruption until the end of June.
First up is Sunday’s Takamatsunomiya Kinen, a 1,200-meter (six stadia) turf sprint at the left-handed Chukyo Track. The 52nd edition of the Takamatsunomiya Kinen has attracted 20 nominees aged 4 to 8 years including six bitches and one gelding. Eighteen of them find a berth.
This year’s field of participants is short of top-level winners compared to the past. Of the nominees, only a trio – Salios, Resistencia and Grenadier Guards – have claimed a Class 1 event, all as two-year-olds. Other beacons of hope are the winners of the important step races. The winners of the last heat were: Gendarme (Grade 3 Yukan Fuji Sho Ocean Stakes), Diatonic (Grade 3 Hankyu Hai), Meikei Yell (Grade 3 Silk Road Stakes) and Grenadier Guards (Grade 2 Hanshin Cup). Naran Huleg, Travesura, Sunrise Honest and Shine Garnet also finished in the top 3 in these races.
The Chukyo 1,200-meter grass race begins on the backstretch. After making your way home, there are still 412 meters to go, with just 70 meters later a hill begins and rises almost two meters in the next 100 meters.
Post time for the 52nd edition of the Grade 1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen is 3:40pm local time and it will be race 11 on the Sunday card in Chukyo.
Here’s a look at the expected top picks:
Grenadier Guard: The 4-year-old stallion Grenadier Guards comes from a Grade 2 Hanshin Cup victory over 1,400 meters. The stallion has only failed to finish in the top 3 twice in his nine starts. He has a win and a third in his three Class 1 bids down the mile so far. Despite having two wins and two seconds in his four starts in the 1,400m (seven furlongs), this will be his first time at the 1,200m. His father, undefeated 10-time G1 winner Frankel, primarily ran the mile. Grenadier Guards also inherited sprinter blood from his dam, Wavell Avenue, who won the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Fillies and Mare Sprint. The stallion will go outside the gate for the first time in three months with his new partner, jockey Yuichi Fukunaga. Fukunaga, who has three wins at the Takamatsunomiya Kinen, has been driving the fast work for the past two weeks.
Grenadier Guards has a record of 3-2-2 from nine starts with earnings of $1,842,490.
resistance: The 5-year-old daughter of Daiwa Major just missed the winner’s circle here last year, and at the Sprinters Stakes in early October she finished second again, two lengths behind the winner. Both times she had sped off an outside gate. Of her seven Class 1 bids in Japan, Resistencia has won only once (the 2019 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies) and finished runners-up four times. On her first trip abroad last December, the bay mare competed in the Hong Kong Sprint, and while she was certainly affected by the horrific accident at that race, she again finished second, less than a length behind the winner. Competing for the first time since returning to Japan, Resistencia is expected to see a new partner, 23-year-old jockey Takeshi Yokoyama, who claimed a staggering five Class 1 victories last year.
Meikei Yell: Sired by Mikki Isle, 4-year-old Meikei Yell has five wins (three over 1,200 meters) in her nine starts and takes her fourth Grade 1. Last year, she finished fourth in the Sprinters Stakes, where she trailed Resistencia by almost three lengths but was ahead of Danon Smash. Returning from the Sprinters Stakes, she picked up her first race on the left and conquered the Grade 3 Silk Road Stakes. Trainer Hidenori Take attributes the win in large part to equipment changes that helped calm the excited filly.
“I plan to ride them with the same gear as last time. She is eating well now and is calmer. I feel like she understands a lot more now,” commented the coach.
Salios: Salios returns to the track after a third place finish at the Hong Kong Mile in December and this time it will be his first 1,200m race. Heart’s Cry’s son has competed in eight Grade 1 events so far, but won just one – the 2019 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes. Salios, who competed primarily on the mile, also finished second over the longer distances of the 2020 Satsuki Sho ( Japanese 2000 Guineas) and Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby). Given his record the 5-year-old seems an unlikely candidate for a sprint but trainer Noriyuki Hori believes the horse has a good chance here.
“His innate quality was one of the reasons I decided to lead him here. His physique and footwork are both suited to short distances,” said the coach.
diatonic: Third-place finisher in the 2020 Takamatsunomiya Kinen, Lord Kanaloa-sired Diatonic followed with a promising win in the Grade 3 Hakodate Sprint Stakes over the same distance. He competed in the Sprinters Stakes that fall, where disruptions contributed to his 13th place finish, but was also later found to have suffered a fracture. Diatonic returned 11 months later in Grade 3 Keeneland Cup before taking another four months off. He returned to the track in January of this year and conquered the Grade 3 Hankyu Hai in February. Coach Takayuki Yasuda, who also coached Lord Kanaloa, is cautiously optimistic, saying the 7-year-old has improved since he last started.
“I think 1,200 meters is his best distance. This time it’s a grade 1 and the competition is stronger, so we will compete as challengers. I want him to have a good start.”
gendarme: With six wins in his 27 starts, the American-born Gendarme is entering his sixth Grade 1 at age 7. While he has yet to win a major, he came close in the 2,000-yard Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes on it a 2 year old. His trainer Yasutoshi Ikee has gradually shortened his distance, and from his last six starts over the past year (all at 1,200 meters), Gendarme has had two wins, his most recent at the Grade 3 Ocean Stakes earlier this month in Nakayama.
Naran Huleg: Naran Huleg, a 6-year-old son of dirt champion Gold Allure, has been extremely reliable since last fall. He hasn’t missed the top 3 in his last four starts, including two Grade 3 events. He hasn’t won a graded stakes race yet, but he’s come close and has his best trip, a left-handed 1,200-meter race on grass.
travesura: Travesura was a surprise fourth as the 16th pick at last year’s Takamatsunomiya Kinen and has only had two starts since then, but finished second in both 1,400-meter races – including last place in the Grade 3 Ocean Stakes. It’s definitely a long shot, but if he could pull off a win this time, it would not only be his first Grade 1 win, but also the first for both trainer Yasuyuki Takahashi and expected jockey Katsuma Samejima.
lotus land: Also worth mentioning is the US-bred 5-year-old mare Lotus Land. She’s proven consistent over the 1,600-1,800m with six wins and three seconds from her 13 starts, returning after a three-month hiatus from the Mile Championship and making her first 1,400m trip last month, the Grade 3 Kyoto Himba to lead stakes. She looks light on her feet at work and is in good shape for her first 1,200m trip.