The top competition in Japan continues to hop from one course to another - Tokyo to Chukyo, this week to Hanshin, and then to a double yearend wrap-up at Nakayama. On Sunday Hanshin Racecourse will host the Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies, a competition for 2-year-olds over 1,600 meters of turf. Sixty-five million yen is on the line for the winner, with a total purse upward of 140 million yen.
Twenty-six fillies have been nominated for the race’s 75th running.
With careers barely budding for many, those youngsters with the most experience on the track are natural standouts. Even more so are those that have won at the graded-stakes or while competing alongside colts. Three such are - Ascoli Piceno, Culture Day and Corazon Beat. And all are coming directly from a graded-stakes win, a condition that matches seven of the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies’ last 10 winners. Also currying considerable favor are runners-up in graded competition Bond Girl and Safira.
Fillies heading to the gate with a still-pristine record have also done well in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies and make up half the race’s winners over the last decade. Ascoli Piceno, Culture Day, Psipsina and Spring Nova are such and already hold tickets for Sunday. Four other unbeaten fillies - Tagano Elpida, New General, Atrium Chapel and Blue Eyed Girl - have only had one start and need to win the lottery to get to the gate.
The Hanshin Juvenile Fillies is run over the outer course of the right-handed venue. The race begins in the backstretch and about 450 meters from the starting gate there is a slight upward slope just before the first turn. With 600 meters to go, the track dips for some 400 meters and rises again over half a furlong before leveling out with another half furlong to go.
Weights have risen 1 kg from this year and all fillies will be carrying 55 kg. The Hanshin Juvenile Fillies is the No. 11 race on the Hanshin Sunday card of 12. Post time is 3:40 p.m.
Here’s a look at some of the field’s standouts:
Bond Girl - Bond Girl leapt from her debut win to finish second in the Grade 3 Saudi Arabia Royal Cup last out on Oct. 7. Despite a 1 kg allowance, the Daiwa Major filly shone as the only female in a field of nine. She overcame a late break to come within 2 lengths of winner Gonbade Qabus, while relegating Grade 2 winner Strauss to third place. Both Bond Girl’s starts have been over the mile, but she’ll be racing to the right for the first time. Based at Miho, she’ll also have to weather the trip to the track well. “She had trouble maintaining her balance in her last start, but still she finished in second,” said trainer Takahisa Tezuka. “I’ve been using a different bit on her and that has helped. If she can get a smooth trip, I think she has a chance.” Ridden last out by Yuga Kawada, Bond Girl’s new partner is expected to be Brit Tom Marquand.
Bond Girl, picture Japan Racing Association
Ascoli Piceno - Also by Daiwa Major, Ascoli Piceno has scored two for two and, in her last start, aced the Grade 3 Niigata Nisai Stakes at the end of August. Like Bond Girl, she too topped colts (by 1 length), but did it carrying the same weight of 55 kg. She too is untested racing to the right and based at Miho. Though she wasn’t compromised by the trip to Niigata, trainer Yoichi Kuroiwa decided to ship her early to Ritto, where she arrived on Nov. 17. “Thanks to moving her early, her appetite has stabilized and she has maintained her condition,” says Kuroiwa. “The jockey (Hiroshi Kitamura) rode her last week and got a reading on her. “She’s not overly tense, was easily maneuverable and picked it up nicely in the finish,” he added. “I think the sweeping turn over the Hanshin outer course is very attractive.” Ascoli Piceno has displayed versatility, persistence and a powerful late kick that should serve her well.
Corazon Beat - One of six fillies with already four races behind her, Corazon Beat is on a three-race winning streak. Her flashy time of 33.2 seconds over the final 3 furlongs put her top of the class in the Nov. 4 Grade 2 Keio Hai Nisai Stakes and landed her a 2-year-old course record time (1 minute 20.6 seconds). The daughter of Suave Richard has experience over 1,600 meters, but has only raced to the left and her last two starts have been over 1,400 meters. She’s primed and improvement expected, but the extra furlong will call for more patience than she’s known to show. Young Takeshi Yokoyama is expected up.
Safira - A consistent filly who has always made the money in her three starts thus far, Safira jumped from her maiden win (over the Hanshin 1,800) to the Grade 3, all-filly Artemis Stakes (Tokyo, 1,600). There, despite an outer draw and an early slow pace, her fiery kick was sufficient to take her over the final 3 furlongs in 33.4 seconds to a second-place finish. Trainer Manabu Ikezoe says, “Of course, we’ll start to see real fruit at 3-4 years old, and I think she’ll be able to race better, but I think the conditions will be much better for her this time than they were in the Artemis Stakes. I didn’t see any stiffness in her movement last time and I’m hoping she’ll maintain a good mental state this time.” Safira is by Heart’s Cry out of the mare Salomina, which makes her a full sister to Salios, who aced the Grade 1 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes in 2019. Based at Ritto, the return to Hanshin is a plus.
Stellenbosch - A Epiphaneia filly from the Miho stable of veteran trainer Sakae Kunieda, Stellenbosch has a consistent 1-2-1 record that, despite her lack of calm and some interference under way, last put her in the winner’s circle of the Akamatasu Sho, a listed race over the Tokyo mile. “She got bumped in the backstretch where I’d wanted her to go slow, but she did quicken well in the final stage and I think it was a strong race. I think the Hanshin outer course will suit her so I have my expectations up,” says Kunieda. Experienced at the distance as well as racing to the right, Stellenbosch will be traveling to Hanshin for the first time. Kunieda sent her early to Ritto, where she arrived Nov. 25. Adding to the confidence level will be expected new partner Christophe Lemaire, who is currently only one win away from having scored 50 Japan Racing Association G1s. When he does, he’ll tie Yutaka Take for the record of most JRA G1 victories.
Other runners of interest are:
Lucifer is 2-1-1 from three starts over 1,800-2,000 meters, with her most recent win a listed race at Kyoto. It’ll be her first time at Hanshin, but she’s raced solely to the right and is based at Ritto. Her versatility and keen fighting spirit racing against colts in all her races could well make up for what she may lack in speed, but still mentally immature, her lack of cooperation with the rider and the distance are concerns.
Unbeaten in two starts, Culture Day captured the Fantasy Stakes, an all-filly Grade 3 at Kyoto on Nov. 4. Raced at 6 and 7 furlongs, this will be her first mile and patience will be a virtue. Whether she can show it is the question, and the Hanshin straight, longer than Kyoto’s, will be key.
The Miho-based Catfight has had three starts over 1,600 meters and has won two of them. Her most recent start saw her prevail over the Nakayama 1,600 on Sept. 9. Though still at the one-win level she displayed excellent speed. A very slight filly weighing in at less than 440 kg, the possible weight loss from the trip to Hanshin will be a concern.