Mile Championship (G1) - Preview
Once again, the main event of the Japanese week will be staged at Kyoto Racecourse, just a week before the international gala Japan Cup. This Sunday the spotlight is on speed with the miler heavyweights out in force for the Grade 1 Mile Championship. Open to 3-year-olds and up, the second big mile event of the year after the Yasuda Kinen carries a first prize of 103 million yen. Twenty-two horses have been nominated and 18 will make the cut for the 34th running of the Mile Championship.
The race is held over the Kyoto outer course, also the scene for such graded stakes events as the Kyoto Kimpai and the Shinzan Kinen. The race starts in the backstretch in the pocket behind the second turn. There are over 700 meters of straight track until the first bend, leaving ample room for maneuvering but the pace is usually heated from the start. The track climbs until the first bend, then dips going into the stretch of some 400 meters.
Danon Shark holds the race record time of 1 minute, 31.5 seconds, set in 2014.
The Mile Championship is the 11th race on Sunday at Kyoto. Post time is 15:40 local time. Here’s a look at some of the runners.
Air Spinel: A 4-year-old son of King Kamehameha, Air Spinel is gunning for his first Grade 1 win, and although the Mile Championship represents only his second top-level bid at the distance competing against older horses, recent form suggests he may be ready to make the winner’s circle at long last. Air Spinel made the board but missed the money in the first two 3-year-old Classics, with fourth-place finishes in both the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) and the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby), then, in the longest of the three races, he ran third in the Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger). However, after being dropped back in distance to the mile for most of his starts this year, he has made the top three spots in four of five starts at the distance. He also ran fifth in the hotly contested finish of the Yasuda Kinen, when the top five each crossed the line a neck behind the horse ahead. In that race, Air Spinel had found himself behind a wall until the very last furlong. With more room to move, things could have easily gone in his favor. Last out, Air Spinel won his second Grade 3 of the year when he nabbed the Fuji Stakes at Tokyo on Oct. 21. His other win was the Kyoto Kimpai, run over the same conditions as the Mile Championship. He has won the Daily Hai Nisai Stakes, also a mile at Kyoto. Expected to be in the saddle is Yutaka Take, who has ridden all but one of Air Spinel’s starts. It should also be noted that Take helped guide two others who had long struggled to capture a Grade 1 race to eventual victory in the Mile Championship – Sadamu Patek in 2012 and Tosen Ra in 2013. It’s a relatively tight rotation from the Fuji Stakes, but improvement is expected.
Isla Bonita: Three years ago, Isla Bonita aced the Satsuki Sho, lost the Derby by 3/4 length to One and Only, and later that year passed on the Kikuka Sho to take on the Tenno Sho (Autumn), where he ran third. He won the race before that, the Grade 2 Asahi Hai St. Lite Kinen and that was the last race he’d won until this April. Though the winner’s circle had eluded him, the 6-year-old son of Fuji Kiseki hadn’t been far off. He had made the money in Grade 1 competition both last year and the year before that, including a second to Mikki Isle in the Mile Championship last year and a third the year before. Most recently, he ran second to Air Spinel in the Fuji Stakes, but was coming off a near 5-month layoff compared to the latter’s spell of 2 months. His eighth-place finish in the Yasuda Kinen, 0.5 seconds off the winner, followed a win of the Grade 2 Milers Cup. In the Yasuda Kinen, Isla Bonita was unable to get a clear run and, kept waiting on the inside, the big-striding horse was unable to gain momentum once clear. If Isla Bonita can manage a win on Sunday, it would be his first win of a Grade 1 in nearly three years and seven months. He’ll be partnered with Christophe Lemaire, who has partnered Isla Bonita for one win and four seconds over his last seven starts. Considering that he was back from a layoff in the Fuji Stakes, running on a sloppy track under 58kg, 1kg less than Air Spinel and 1kg less than he’ll carry on Sunday, Isla Bonita may well be able to turn the tables at Kyoto.
Red Falx: With back-to-back victories in the Sprinters Stakes and only having had one race recently at anything longer than 1,400 meters since his career second start four years ago, Red Falx does not seem a likely pick for the Mile Championship. That one recent race at a longer distance, however, was this year’s Yasuda Kinen, and the 6-year-old by Swept Overboard finished third just 0.1 seconds behind winner Satono Aladdin. It’s an unusual choice to follow up a Sprinters Stakes win with the Mile Championship and the last horse that did so successfully was Durandal in 2003. If Red Falx can win the Mile Championship, he’ll be the first horse without a previous mile win to do since Tosen Ra four years ago and only the fifth horse in the race’s 34 runnings. The rotation is doable and his movement in work seems to been good. It will, however, be the first time for the Miho-based Red Falx to race at Kyoto.
Satono Aladdin, picture Japan Racing Association
Satono Aladdin: Fifth in last year’s Mile Championship, fourth the year before that, the 6-year-old Deep Impact-sired Satono Aladdin is set to take on the Kyoto top-level mile for his third time. Fourth in last year’s Yasuda Kinen, he captured the spring Grade 1 mile event this year for his first top-level win and would secure top miler of the year if he could manage a win on Sunday. Doubts are expected to push his popularity down, however, as the big-striding horse likes more room to move than Kyoto tends to offer compared to Tokyo. Other than his two Mile Championship bids, Satono Aladdin has had only one other start at Kyoto, the Grade 2 Swan Stakes over 1,400 meters, which he won. Following the Yasuda Kinen, Satono Aladdin returned in the fall to run second despite an unfavorable trip in the Grade 2 Mainichi Okan at Tokyo, but then finished last of 18 over a sloppy track in the Tenno Sho (Autumn), a result that will also lose him votes at the betting windows. It’s one that should be disregarded unless the track is heavy at Kyoto. Satono Aladdin will also be running under a kilogram less than any of his three starts this year. And, if he can get a position that allows him running room, three may be the charm for this Mile Championship veteran, as it was for Company in 2009 and Danon Shark in 2014.
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Among other candidates…
Leading the pack of 3-year-olds aiming to become the first of that age group to capture the Mile Championship in 17 years is Sungrazer, by Deep Impact. In his 15 starts thus far, he has failed to make the money only twice and the board only once. His five wins have come predominately at 1,400 meters, but he has won at half a furlong more as well as 1,800 meters. His last outing, the Grade 2 Swan Stakes, was his best thus far and his first graded stakes win. In that race, he beat Sprinters Stakes runnerup Let’s Go Donki over the line by nearly two lengths. It’ll be a step up in class but he has a forgiving 56kg and Yuichi Fukunaga in the saddle for support. Filly Reine Minoruby Daiwa Major will have 2kg less than that and it will be her first return to the distance since her winning run in the Oka Sho. Also not to forget is Persian Knight, by Harbinger, who will be piloted by Mirco Demuro. The colt is three for eight with two seconds and a third. Last out, he came back from five months off to run fifth in the Fuji Stakes. He will return sharper to Kyoto, where he finished third in the Grade 3 Shinzan Kinen over 1,600 meters early this year.
Others to watch are the Miho-based Maltese Apogee, a 5-year-old by Goshawk Ken that has never failed to take the lead in all of his 23 career starts and he has held his ground for eight wins, one second and three thirds, including three wins at the Grade 3 level and two wins and a third at the mile. It will, however, be his first time at Kyoto. Kluger, a hefty 5-year-old by King Kamehameha, returned after six months off to run third in the Fuji Stakes and last spring he captured the Grade 2 Milers Cup at Kyoto. And, a word of caution not to ignore 5-year-old Grand Silk, who has made the top three spots consistently over the mile at the Grade 2 and 3 levels. It will be the son of Stay Gold’s first time at Kyoto.