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Victoria Mile (G1) - Preview

Alongside the three 3-year-old top-level events at Tokyo Racecourse this month, comes the Grade 1 Victoria Mile, a distaff race that showcases older horses. The 19th running of the 1,600-meter turf competition is the only Japan Racing Association Grade 1 solely for females that excludes 3-year-olds and is open only to those fillies and mares aged 4 years old and up.

Fifteen horses, aged 4 to 6, have been nominated for the race, the smallest number to date for the race, but one that assures all will likely be able to compete. The nominees include two Grade 1 champions - Namur and Stunning Rose. All will vie for a purse now topping JPY281 million, with a first-place prize of JPY130 million.

The spotlight currently focuses on three runners - Namur, returning from Dubai, Masked Diva, coming off a win of the Hanshin Himba Stakes, and Umbrail, the runnerup in the same race.

The competition is also keen in the saddle, as Christophe Lemaire and Keita Tosaki, both tied with most wins of the race at three, vie to gain the lead. Also, Yuga Kawada, Japan’s current leading jockey, and Kenichi Ikezoe are chasing the one final win that will give them wins in all six of the Grade 1 distaffs. Accomplishing the feat would allow one of them to join ranks with only three other jockeys in Japan’s racing history - Yutaka Take, Masayoshi Ebina, and Christophe Lemaire.

The Victoria Mile has proven itself an especially hard race to pick. Over the past decade, though longshots have never won and double-digits outsiders have only appeared in the Top 3 twice (both in third place), the favorite has only won the race two times and finished second twice.

Though there are a couple exceptions, the Top 3 finishers in the Victoria Mile over the last decade have largely raced in either the Grade 2 Hanshin Himba Stakes over 1,600 meters at Hanshin, immediately prior to the Victoria Mile, or one of the Grade 1 events earlier in the year or in the previous year’s Arima Kinen (the Grand Prix). Last year’s Victoria Mile winner Songline surprised coming off a run in the Grade 3 1351 Turf Sprint at Riyadh. The growing number of Japanese horses competing in Saudi Arabia and Dubai earlier in the year could possibly indicate a new trend.

The Victoria Mile starts at the top of the backstretch, with 500 meters to the first turn. Halfway down the backstretch, a downward slope reverses sharply, then drops again around the bend. Runners hit the final hill with 450 meters to go, giving rise to Tokyo’s reputation as Japan’s hardest test of overall strength.

All runners carry 56kg. The race is the 11th on the Tokyo card of 12 and post time is 15:40 local time - 16.40 AEST on Sky Racing2.

Here’s a look at some of the expected contenders.

Masked Diva: A 4-year-old filly by Rulership, the Ritto-based Masked Diva is an unusual standout, having not followed the usual paths to the heights. Debuting only in her 3-year-old year, she was started over 9-10 furlongs and continued at that distance for her first five races. She showed her talent early on, winning three of those five and capturing the Grade 2 Rose Stakes in record time on her fourth outing. That was followed with a second-place finish one length behind hotshot Liberty Island in the Grade 1 Shuka Sho. Dropping in distance to the mile, she returned four months later for the Grade 3 Tokyo Shimbun Hai, her only race at Tokyo. Boasting a 10-kg gain, she missed the break, which figured largely in her sixth-place finish, but still was only beaten by males, her age and older. Next out she scored her second graded-stakes victory, this time under Joao Moreira in the Grade 2 Hanshin Himba Stakes. She, along with Ten Happy Rose (sixth in the Hanshin Himba Stakes), is one of two Victoria Mile nominees bred by Shadai Farm. The farm has fielded runners in the race every year since its inauguration, but has failed to score another win since its 3-year winning streak came to an end in 2009. Trainer Yasuyuki Tsujino is gunning for his first win of the race and Moreira is expected up again.

Namur, picture Japan Racing Association

Namur: Namur, a Harbinger 5-year-old, finished in seventh place here last year, with interference in the stretch a factor. She immediately returned in the Yasuda Kinen after that, but beat only two horses over the line in the field of 18. Four months later, however, she was back in form. Returning to Tokyo, she captured the Grade 2 Fuji Stakes over 1,600 meters, then a month later won the Grade 1 Mile Championship at Kyoto. From there, she jetted to foreign lands, scoring a third in the Hong Kong Mile, then a second in the Dubai Turf, both top-level events. Unlike Masked Diva, Namur is proven in mixed competition. She has gone up against the colts and horses and won or topped many of them. She has had seven different riders over her 15 outings, including three foreign-based jockeys. This time she looks to make it eight, with Yutaka Take expected up for the first time. Namur chases her second Grade 1 win and Take his second of the Victoria Mile, following his win with Vodka in 2009.

Umbrail: From the Miho stable of Tetsuya Kimura, comes the 4-year-old Lord Kanaloa filly Umbrail. Acing her first two starts, Umbrail quickly reached the heights, taking on her first mile with the Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies. She missed the break and was never able to catch up, finishing 15th of 18. In her five starts since, she has failed to find the winner’s circle, but has come close, with three seconds, two in Grade 2s and one in last year’s Grade 1 NHK Mile Cup, where she missed the win by only a head. Last out in the Hanshin Himba Stakes, Umbrail, with new partner Yuga Kawada, scored a second half a length behind Masked Diva. Now back at the same venue as the NHK Mile Cup, Umbrail will try to make up the distance. Kawada is expected up again.

Moryana: A Miho-based 4-year-old by Ephiphaneia, Moryana finished third in the Hanshin Himba Stakes last out. Posting a lackluster 12-6-5 in her three Grade 1 bids, the first two over a mile, Moryana once again caught fans’ eyes when she won the Grade 2 Shion Stakes over 2,000 meters, at Nakayama after heading into the stretch with only one of the 17 runners behind her. She won the race with a blistering final three-furlong time of 34.3 seconds. In the Hanshin Himba Stakes, he also had the field’s top speed of 32.9 seconds over the final 600 meters. This talent may help her over the long Tokyo stretch in what will be only her second time at the venue.

Stunning Rose: Stunning Rose, a 5-year-old by King Kamehameha, was off to a fine start from her debut and rose to finish second in the 2022 Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) before capturing the Grade 1 Shuka Sho. From there, however, it was a downhill ride, one that saw her finish far off the front in her next four outings. Twelfth here last year, she was given nearly a year off due to injury. She returned in the Osaka Hai on March 31, where she finished in eighth place, but her time was only 0.5 seconds off the winner’s. Now, in her second start from her return, hopes are high her previous talent may once again be seen.

Others to keep an eye on include:

Harper recorded 4-2-3 in last year’s filly Classics respectively, and finished third in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup amid older fillies and mares. She won both of her mile events, but her 9-13 result in the Arima Kinen and Osaka Hai tarnished her popularity rating. Back with only females and at a mile, she’s not one to overlook.

It will be the first Grade 1 for Fierce Pride, a Deep Impact mare now 6 years old, who won the Grade 3 Turquoise Stakes over 1,600 meters at Nakayama at yearend. Prepped with the Grade 3 Nakayama Himba Stakes on March 9, she’s expected to be partnered once again with Christophe Lemaire

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