Takarazuka Kinen (G1) - Preview

The final JRA Grade 1 of the first half of the year will be held this coming Sunday, when the Takarazuka Kinen will be run at Kyoto Racecourse, a switch from its usual Hanshin venue, due to renovation work at the Kansai track near Kobe. It’s one of the two so-called ‘All-Star’ races in the year, where fans get to vote for the horses they’d like to see race against each other.

The first Takarazuka Kinen was run in 1960, and it was originally run over 1,800 meters, before taking on its current distance of 2,200 meters in 1966. For the most part, the race has been run at Hanshin Racecourse, exceptions being when renovation work has meant the race was transferred to Kyoto, as is the case this year. The last time Kyoto staged the race was in 2006, when Deep Impact won.

Open to 3-year-olds and up, the Grade 1 Takarazuka Kinen became an international Grade 1 in 1997, but there have only ever been two runners from overseas: Seto Stayer from Australia in 1997, and Hong Kong’s Werther ran a strong race to take second in 2018. There will be no foreign horses running in the race this year.

There are 13 nominations for Sunday’s race, and topping the fans’ vote is Do Deuce (with just over 238,000 votes), who obligingly takes part in the race. Four-year-olds and up carry 58kg, while there is a generous weight allowance for 3-year-olds with a 53kg set weight, and a 2kg allowance for fillies and mares. No 3-year-olds are among the nominations, however, and just one mare holds an entry.

A couple of races leading up to this week’s big race have been the Grade 1 Osaka Hai, run over 2,000 meters at Hanshin in March, and the Grade 1 Tenno Sho (Spring), run over 3,200 meters at Kyoto in April.

The past ten years have seen just three first favorites win the Grade 1 Takarazuka Kinen, and in that same timespan, seven 5-year-olds have won. Record time for the race is held by Titleholder, who stopped the clock in a time of 2 minutes, 9.7 seconds in 2022. This year’s winner’s check is JPY220 million (in the region of USD1.5 million), and the first past the post also receives an automatic entry to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf and the Grade 1 Cox Plate.

The Grade 1 Takarazuka Kinen will be Race 11 on the Sunday card at Kyoto, with a post time locally of 15.40 -16.40 AEST Sky Racing2.

Here’s a look at some of the runners expected to line up on Sunday:

Do Deuce: The now 5-year-old Do Deuce is the one racing fans want to see run, and it will be his first race in Japan this year, after taking on the Grade 1 Dubai Turf in March, when he finished fifth. Trainer Yasuo Tomomichi’s recent comments on the horse were: “In the home straight last time, he wasn’t able to find a way through and get a good finish in. He returned to Japan without any problems, and has had a break at Northern Farm Shigaraki. In training at the end of last month, his times were faster than I thought. More recently, he’s been moving well in his work with other horses, despite the pace not being that quick.” Four-time winner of the Takarazuka Kinen, jockey Yutaka Take looks set to partner Do Deuce once again.

Do Deuce, picture Japan Racing Association

Bellagio Opera: The 4-year-old colt by Lord Kanaloa finally broke through at Grade 1 level last time, when he won the Osaka Hai over 2,000 meters back in March. He now has five wins from just eight starts, and in one race at Kyoto, he finished second in the Grade 2 Kyoto Kinen in February, which was run over the same course and distance of this week’s race. Trainer Hiroyuki Uemura commented: “In the Osaka Hai, when I looked at the other horses in the race and the going on the day, I thought he would do well running from a forward position. The jockey also thought the same and was able to go through with the plan very well. The horse had a break at the farm after that race, and since returning to the stable, it’s been as usual with him. He’s been moving well in recent training.”

Justin Palace: Winner of the Grade 1 Tenno Sho (Spring) in 2023, and third to Equinox in last year’s Grade 1 Takarazuka Kinen, the 5-year-old’s recent form also shows that he’s not far off another big race win. His latest run was in the Grade 1 Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan in March, where he finished a respectable fourth. Trainer Haruki Sugiyama said: “He’s having his usual training routine, now that he’s recovered from the trip to Dubai. He’s more mature mentally now, and if he stays calm, we’ll be able to increase his workload a bit more from now.” Taking the ride for the first time since he won on Justin Palace in 2023 will be Christophe Lemaire.

Rousham Park: The 5-year-old by Harbinger put together three straight wins in Japan last year, which included a Grade 3 and a Grade 2, before finishing eighth on his overseas trip to take on the Grade 1 Hong Kong Cup last December. In just one run this year, he narrowly missed out on a first Grade 1 win when beaten by Bellagio Opera in the Grade 1 Osaka Hai in March. Comments from assistant trainer Hiroyuki Yamazaki were: “He had a break at Northern Farm Tenei after his last race, as he was quite tired after it. He’s regained his condition, and he returned to the stable on May 25. Previously he moved around a lot in his box, but he seems more relaxed now, and he’s the type that quickly improves for his training.”

Deep Bond: If ever the term ‘never give up’ should be applied to a racehorse, 7-year-old Deep Bond would be labeled just that. In his 15th start in a Grade 1 last time, it looked as if he might have gone on to win when turning for home in the Tenno Sho (Spring), only to be beaten into third at the finish. He’s back for another try this time, and his tenacity continues to surprise, as assistant trainer Tatsuo Taniguchi explained. “I thought he would improve for his run in the Hanshin Daishoten, but it was hard to know exactly how he might run in the Tenno Sho. As things turned out, he ran a very good race, and having had a spell at the farm since, his condition is about the same as usual,” Taniguchi said.

Sol Oriens: The 4-year-old colt by Kitasan Black hasn’t won since last year’s Grade 1 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas), although it still seems like he has the potential to win at the top-level again if things work out in his favor. He is coming off a seventh-place finish in the Grade 1 Osaka Hai in March, and trainer Takahisa Tezuka gave his thoughts on that result and the horse in general: “We put blinkers on him last time, and it made for a different race for him. When he got into a position to challenge, he got bumped and quickly lost momentum. We’ve taken the blinkers off in training, and being careful not to overwork him, he’s improving his condition once more and moving well.”

Blow the Horn: With two wins from four starts at Kyoto, Blow the Horn is another of the runners looking to win his first Grade 1. In his last two races, he has been beaten by T O Royal, and the most recent came in the Grade 1 Tenno Sho (Spring) over 3,200 meters at Kyoto in April. Comments from assistant trainer Sho Tajima were: “He ran quite well in the Hanshin Daishoten, but for the Tenno Sho, we changed his bit and fitted a hood. He got into a good rhythm in the race, and racing on the outside, that was the only real difference between him and the winner. Things have been fine with him since returning from the farm.” Also looking for his first JRA Grade 1 victory is Blow the Horn’s jockey, Akira Sugawara.

Rouge Eveil: The only filly or mare among the nominations is the 5-year-old daughter of Just a Way, Rouge Eveil. She has shown that she’s capable of running well in Grade 1 races by finishing second in last year’s Queen Elizabeth II Cup, and most recently managed a third-place finish in the Osaka Hai. Trainer Yoichi Kuroiwa said: “She put in a good run last time when up against male horses, doing especially well from a wide draw. It was good to see her back to her best. After her recent stay at the farm, she’s recovered the weight she lost, and her hooves and overall body condition are good, so we’re able to give her a suitable workload in training.” Interestingly, jockey Yuga Kawada has been booked for the ride, and it will be the first time for him to ride Rouge Eveil.

The picture isn’t quite complete without mentioning Struve, a 5-year-old gelding who has won his last three races, the latest being the Grade 2 Meguro Kinen over 2,500 meters at Tokyo in May. Trained by Noriyuki Hori, Struve will be ridden by Australian jockey Damian Lane, and every time a foreign jockey has ridden the horse, he’s been led into the winner’s enclosure.