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Osaka Hai (G1) - Preview

The big race in Japan this coming Sunday will be the Grade 1 Osaka Hai, to be run at Hanshin Racecourse. The race is for four-year-old's and up, and will see some of the country’s older middle-distance stars begin their preparations for some of the other top level races later in the year. The race has attracted fourteen nominations and there are some big Grade 1 winning names among the provisional list of runners.

Established in 1957, the race was previously a handicap run over 1,800 meters, and known as the Sankei Osaka Hai. It’s now run over 2,000 meters on the inner turf course at Hanshin, and this year sees it being run as a Grade 1 for just the fourth time, having been upgraded to the highest level in 2017. Lead up races to this year’s Osaka Hai have included the Grade 2 American Jockey Club Cup over 2,200 at Nakayama in January, the Grade 2 Nakayama Kinen run over 1,800 meters in March, and the Grade 2 Kyoto Kinen run over 2,200 meters in February.

Al Ain caused a 22/1 upset in last year’s Osaka Hai, but there was little more than a length between the first six home, and a similar close finish could easily be on the cards this time too, in what will be the 64th running of the race. Favorites have fared quite well in the past ten years, winning four times, but making the top three eight times. In the same time period, four-year-old's have won five times and 5-year-olds have won four times, demonstrating their dominance in the event. Record time for the race was set by Hiruno d’Amour, who won in a time of 1 minute 57.8 seconds in 2011. There’s a prize money boost this year, with the winner to receive JPY 135 million. Sunday’s big race will be Race 11 on the Hanshin card, with a post time in Japan of 15:40.

Chrono Genesis, picture Japan Racing Association

Here’s a look at some of the big names expected to take on the race:

Danon Kingly The powerful dark bay colt finished second in last year’s Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) and third in the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas), so it would just seem a matter of time before he gains a Grade 1 victory. In his only start this year, he won the Grade 2 Nakayama Kinen over 1,800 meters in March, and from his eight career starts he now has five wins and has only been unplaced once. His trainer, Kiyoshi Hagiwara, likes his chances. “It was his first race last time since the Mile Championship, and he took his chance to win well. It was also the first race this year for other Grade 1 winners in the line-up, and racing smoothly throughout in third, the jockey did well to get him up and win. We’ve been able to look to this race with him since,” said the trainer.

Blast Onepiece The 2018 Arima Kinen (The Grand Prix) winner had his first race since last year’s Arc de Triomphe in the Grade 2 American Jockey Club Cup in January, when he bounced back to winning ways in the 2,200 meter race. The 5-year-old by Harbinger now has seven wins from twelve starts, and will be trying to improve on his sixth place finish in last year’s Osaka Hai, when he started as favorite. Trainer Masahiro Otake recently said: “He started off the year in the American Jockey Club Cup, and there was a slight problem with another horse going back through the field just before the fourth corner, but the jockey did well to switch to the inside and still got a good response. We’ve taken care of him since, and he’s had his usual break at Northern Farm Tenei and came back to the stable on March 12th.”

Chrono Genesis The 4-year-old filly tuned up nicely for this race with a comfortable 2 1/2 length victory in the Grade 2 Kyoto Kinen over 2,200 meters in February. It now means she has five career wins from nine starts, and is already a Grade 1 winner after winning last year’s Shuka Sho in October. Her trainer, Takashi Saito, is pleased with her progress. “She adjusted well to the pace last time and got to run smoothly. It was a good win and she wasn’t bothered about the ground. She was also plus 12 kg for that last race, which tells me she’s developing well,” he said.

Wagnerian One of two entries for trainer Yasuo Tomomichi, the 5-year-old by Deep Impact will be having his first run this year in the Osaka Hai. The 2018 Japanese Derby winner, and last year’s Japan Cup third, will be having just his twelfth start and is looking for his sixth appearance in the winner’s enclosure. The trainer stated: “He had a tough race in the Japan Cup, but given the ground he really did his best. He’s had a nice break at Northern Farm Tenei and came back to the stable refreshed on February 21st. Everything’s been fine with him since his return.”

Lucky Lilac Not always able to live up to her name, the 5-year-old mare scored her second Grade 1 victory in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup last autumn, and has had a couple of second place finishes since, the latest in her only race this year, the Grade 2 Nakayama Kinen in March, when she was beaten by Danon Kingly. Trainer Mikio Matsunaga thought she did little wrong in that race however. “She probably just needed to find a bit extra last time, but nevertheless it was a good performance. She improves for having a run and so she’s still right up there,” said the trainer. Mirco Demuro looks set to ride Lucky Lilac, as he did in her last race.

Makahiki At seven years of age, Makahiki is the oldest horse among the nominations, but the 2016 Japanese Derby winner is still a major force, as he showed last time when he finished fourth in the 2019 Japan Cup. His two previous runs in the Osaka Hai have also yielded fourth place finishes. He’ll come to the race fresh this time, and his trainer, Yasuo Tomomichi, is always careful to make sure he’s in good condition. “After the Japan Cup, we sent him to Northern Farm Tenei for a break and he came back to the stable with Wagnerian. This has been the target race for him and he’s been working as usual in training,” said Tomomichi.

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