Japan Horse Racing News: Japanese Derby (G1) – Preview

Japan Horse Racing News: Japanese Derby (G1) – Preview

Japan Horse Racing News: Japanese Derby (G1) – Preview

Here’s a look at some of the runners the huge crowd on Sunday will be cheering on:

Al Ain

Al Ain: The colt by Deep Impact provided jockey Kohei Matsuyama with his first Grade 1 victory in the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas), and is one of a strong hand that trainer Yasutoshi Ikee fields for the race. Of the colt, he said, “A little while ago, his times were not so quick, but his responses were good, as well as the way he moved. The intention is to get him posting faster times in the lead up to the race. While he’s showed a lot of class in what he’s done so far, the key will really be seeing out the 2,400 meters.” Once again, the 27-year-old Matsuyama, who has ridden in the Derby three times, is scheduled to get the ride.

Persian Knight

Persian Knight: The Harbinger colt has never been unplaced in six starts, and he has three wins to his name. He made up good ground late in the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas), his last run, to finish second. With a lot of activity in jockeys securing rides, it looks as if Keita Tosaki will ride him this time. The horse is another from Yasutoshi Ikee’s yard, and the trainer said, “He’s taken a bit of time to come back to himself, and hopefully he’ll be in good shape by the time of the race. Pedigree wise, I see no problem with the 2,400 meters.”

Satono Arthur

Satono Arthur: Another Deep Impact colt that cost owner Hajime Satomi a near king’s ransom, the horse has already started to repay some of his heady purchase fee. He is two wins and two seconds from four starts, and he finished second to Al Ain in the Grade 3 Mainichi Hai over 1,800 meters at Hanshin in March, his latest run. A stablemate of Al Ain and Persian Knight, the trainer stated recently:  “He looked a little lackluster a while ago and dull in his coat, but as we get nearer to the race, he’s looking better. It’ll be his first time over 2,400 meters, but I think the long straight will suit him.”


Admirable: This well bred colt by Deep Impact out of the Symboli Kris S mare, Scarlet, is seemingly on the up, and has three wins from four starts, with two of those wins coming over 2,400 meters. He won the Grade 2 TV Tokyo Hai Aoba Sho most recently, winning by 2 1/2 lengths, while being sent off as the overwhelming favorite at 1.5-1. Jockey Mirco Demuro teams up with Ritto-based trainer Hidetaka Otonashi, and the trainer said, “The horse has raced three times recently with three week intervals in between, but he adjusts every time and just keeps getting better with each race. He started slowly last time in the Aoba Sho, and I was worried, but from the third corner he started to gain momentum and finished off so well to win the race.”


Danburite: Also hailing from the stable of Hidetaka Otonashi, the colt by Rulership has been just a little unlucky, considering his three third-place finishes that accompany his one win and one second from six career starts. Derby winners come as second nature to jockey Yutaka Take, and now in the 30th year of his career, will he make it another great win aboard Danburite? The trainer stated:  “He was a bit unlucky last time, taking a slight bump on the final bend, and the eventual winner getting a run on him on the inside. So, bearing those things in mind, there wasn’t really much difference between him and the winner. He’s had his usual break at the farm, where everything’s been satisfactory with him.”

Suave Richard

Suave Richard: An expensive buy at the 2014 Select Sale, the colt by Heart’s Cry certainly seems no slouch, and has already notched up two wins and two seconds from five races so far. Connections felt his sixth-place finish in the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) was down to him not quite handling the tight, right-handed track at Nakayama. Trainer Yasushi Shono has no Grade 1 wins to date, but Suave Richard could change all that. The trainer said, “He’s had a two-week break at the farm, which has been good for him, getting rid of any tiredness. He’s starting better in his races, and last time he couldn’t quite finish so well going right-handed. He’s switching back to Tokyo, where he won the Grade 3 Kyodo News Service Hai, and the way he won that time, left-handed at Tokyo would seem best for him.”

Rey de Oro

Rey de Oro: Trained by Kazuo Fujisawa and ridden by Christophe Lemaire, this dynamic duo were responsible for Soul Stirring’s victory in the Oaks last week, and they team up again here in the Derby. The King Kamehameha colt has just had the one run this year, finishing fifth in the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas). Daisuke Tsumagari, assistant trainer, said, “He was well back in his last race, and despite a tremendous finish, the winning post came too soon. You would have to say that it was a good run, with what he showed he could do, even though he had to settle for fifth. He’s had a break at the farm, and came back to the stable on May 4, and everything’s been fine on his return.” With back-to-back Grade 1 wins for Lemaire in the Victoria Mile and Yushun Himba, will it be a hat trick for the French jockey making such a name for himself here in Japan?

Daiwa Cagney

Daiwa Cagney: Unbeaten in three races at Tokyo, the Shadai Farm-bred Daiwa Cagney was a 2 1/2 length winner of the Principal Stakes in his last start, an open class race over 2,000 meters at Tokyo early this month. Trainer Takanori Kikuzawa scored his first Grade 1 victory recently with Aerolithe in the NHK Mile Cup, and said of Daiwa Cagney: “The key to him is keeping him relaxed, and he was fine last time in the Principal Stakes, both in the preliminaries and during the race, which he won well. The worries I have are the start in front of the stands, and the fact that it’s still early in his career.”

After an exciting Oaks win last Sunday for the Frankel filly, Soul Stirring, attention turns to the colts this week, when Tokyo Racecourse stages one of the greatest races on the Japanese racing calendar, namely the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby), on Sunday, May 28. Nineteen 3-year-old colts have been nominated for the 84th running of the race, to be run over 2,400 meters on the turf track at Tokyo Racecourse, just outside of central Tokyo.

A race that was first run in 1932 at the Meguro Racecourse, some of Japan’s greatest thoroughbreds have left their mark on the race, including seven Triple Crown winners, the latest of which was Orfevre in 2011. There are no fillies nominated this year, so it’s all down to the boys, and Al Ain will be bidding to become the 24th horse to go on and win the Derby after securing the first leg of the Triple Crown, the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas).

Lead up races to this year’s Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) have included the Grade 1 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas), Grade 2 TV Tokyo Hai Aoba Sho, Grade 1 NHK Mile Cup, Grade 2 Kyoto Shimbun Hai, and the open class Principal Stakes. The first two of those races were held in April, while the latter three were held earlier this month. Automatic entry to the Derby is given to the first four home in the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas), the first two past the post in the Aoba Sho, and the winner of the Principal Stakes. As things have turned out, the first six horses from the Satsuki Sho will take each other on – or at least have been nominated – for the Derby.

First favorites have won four times in the last 10 years, and the last to do so was Duramente in 2015, who also set a new record for the race that year, winning in a time of 2 minutes, 23.2 seconds. Deep Impact sired colts have won three times in the last decade, proving that the 2005 Derby winner is still influencing the way things have been more recently. The total purse this year is a hefty ¥432 million, with ¥200 million going to the winner. The Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) will be Race 10 on the card on Sunday, with a post time of 15:40 local time.

A fitting climax to the spring mile racing program

The Yasuda Kinen is the last of five G1 races to be held at Tokyo Racecourse in the spring program. In recent years, this race has been won by some famous horses with plenty of success in big races overseas – Lord Kanaloa in 2013, Just A Way in 2014, and Maurice in 2015. Now let’s look at results over the last 10 years in search of some trends in this race, the spring mile champion decider.

Dominance of “Top 2 finishers” in most previous outing

If we aggregate performances by runners over the last 10 years in terms of their finish in their previous outing, we find that all 10 winners in that time had finished “In the Top 4” last time out. What’s more, seven of the 10 runners-up had finished “In the Top 2” in their previous race. This trend has merely intensified since 2013, with seven out of eight Top 2 finishers in that time finishing “In the Top 2” last time out. Of course, we should not overlook the fact that runners in the “6th-9th” group have a Top 3 ratio of 19.0%, only just behind that of the “1st” group (19.5%). But even then, our primary focus should still be on horses finishing strongly in their previous outing. [Table 1]

[Table 1] Performance by finish in the previous race (last 10 years)
Finish in previous race Performance
[1st-2nd-3rd-4th or lower]
Win ratio Top 2 ratio Top 3 ratio
1st 5-3-0-33 12.2% 19.5% 19.5%
2nd 2-4-0-22 7.1% 21.4% 21.4%
3rd 2-0-4-18 8.3% 8.3% 25.0%
4th 1-0-1-19 4.8% 4.8% 9.5%
5th 0-0-3-11 0% 0% 21.4%
6th-9th 0-3-1-17 0% 14.3% 19.0%
10th or lower 0-0-1-22 0% 0% 4.3%

Be prepared for a strong showing by unfavored runners
Viewing aggregate performances in terms of favoritism over the last 10 years, the best success ratios belong to horses backed as “1st-3rd favorite.” On the other hand, all 10 runners finishing 3rd had started the race as “3rd favorite or lower,” and eight of these were in fact “6th favorite or lower.” A horse backed as “6th favorite or lower” has finished in the Top 3 in each of the last 10 years; last year, the “8th favorite” Logotype held off a strong challenge from Maurice, the favorite with win odds of 1.7-1, for a sensational victory. We should always be prepared for a strong showing by unfavored runners. [Table 2]

[Table 2] Performance by favoritism (last 10 years)
Favoritism Performance
[1st-2nd-3rd-4th or lower]
Win ratio Top 2 ratio Top 3 ratio
1st favorite 4-1-0-5 40.0% 50.0% 50.0%
2nd favorite 3-1-0-6 30.0% 40.0% 40.0%
3rd favorite 0-3-1-6 0% 30.0% 40.0%
4th favorite 0-0-0-10 0% 0% 0%
5th favorite 0-2-1-7 0% 20.0% 30.0%
6th-9th favorite 3-1-3-33 7.5% 10.0% 17.5%
10th favorite or lower 0-2-5-75 0% 2.4% 8.5%

Watch for runners coming from G1 and G3
In performances over the last 10 years by condition of the previous race, six of the winners in that time had most recently contested “G1” races and two had last been seen in a “G3” race. “G2” races have produced 91 runners but only one winner. On the other hand, runners last seen in G2 races have achieved by far the largest number of 2nd and 3rd place finishes (16 altogether) and marginally the best Top 3 ratio. It seems a good idea to bear in mind that the winner, runner-up and third-placed horse in this race can be influenced by vastly different conditions of the previous race. [Table 3]

[Table 3] Performance by condition of previous race (last 10 years)
Condition of previous race Performance
[1st-2nd-3rd-4th or lower]
Win ratio Top 2 ratio Top 3 ratio
G1 6-3-1-46 10.7% 16.1% 17.9%
G2 1-7-9-74 1.1% 8.8% 18.7%
G3 2-0-0-9 18.2% 18.2% 18.2%
Open special 1-0-0-12 7.7% 7.7% 7.7%
Earning up to ¥1.6 m 0-0-0-1 0% 0% 0%

Note: “G1”, “G2” and “G3” include overseas races and NAR dirt grade races.

Don’t discount horses without a recent win
Turning finally to performances over the last 10 years by the number of wins in the last four outings, runners with “3 or more” wins in that time have recorded easily the highest success ratios here. They are followed by the group with “2 wins,” revealing a tendency for horses with more recent wins to be more successful here. Nevertheless, in recent years, those with “0 wins” at all in their last four outings have produced respectable performances, too; they include last year’s winner Logotype and 3rd-place finisher Fiero. In fact, horses from the “0 wins” category have finished in the Top 3 for six straight years since 2011. We would do well not to overlook runners without any wins in their recent record. [Table 4]

[Table 4] Performance by wins in the last four outings (last 10 years)
 Number of wins Performance
[1st-2nd-3rd-4th or lower]
Win ratio Top 2 ratio Top 3 ratio
3 or more 3-2-0-6 27.3% 45.5% 45.5%
2 2-2-2-24 6.7% 13.3% 20.0%
1 2-3-3-59 3.0% 7.5% 11.9%
0 3-3-5-53 4.7% 9.4% 17.2%

Seek out the winner!
Check favoritism in the most recent JRA race
All six winners since 2011 had been backed “Among the Top 4 favorites” in their most recent JRA race. It might be interesting to check the runners’ favoritism in their most recent JRA race, to see if this trend will continue this year. [Table 5]

[Table 5] Winners’ favoritism in the most recently contested JRA race (last 6 years)
Year Wining horse Favoritism
2011 Real Impact 4th favorite
2012 Strong Return 2nd favorite
2013 Lord Kanaloa 1st favorite
2014 Just A Way 2nd favorite
2015 Maurice 1st favorite
2016 Logotype 4th favorite
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S. Jack Heffernan Ph.D. Funds Manager at HEFFX holds a Ph.D. in Economics and brings with him over 25 years of trading experience in Asia and hands on experience in Venture Capital, he has been involved in several start ups that have seen market capitalization over $500m and 1 that reach a peak market cap of $15b. He has managed and overseen start ups in Mining, Shipping, Technology and Financial Services.

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