Japan horses aim to take first step on road to Kentucky Derby

Japan horses aim to take first step on road to Kentucky Derby
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

The 2022-23 Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby gets under way  Saturday with the running of the $220,325 Cattleya at Tokyo Racecourse (post time 12:15 a.m. EST).

Held over 1,600 meters (about one mile) on dirt, the Cattleya awards qualification points to the top five finishers on a 10-4-3-2-1 basis, making it the least lucrative of the four Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying races. But lest the Cattleya be underestimated as an unimportant Derby prep, remember that 2015 Cattleya winner Lani competed in all three legs of the 2016 Triple Crown and managed a third-place finish in the Belmont Stakes.

A field of 10 has turned out for the 2022 Cattleya, with Plavi installed as the 5-2 favorite.

He was dominant when debuting over 1,800 meters (about 1 1/8 miles) at Chukyo, sprinting the final 600 meters in 38.2 seconds - the fastest fraction in the field - to trounce 11 rivals by three lengths in 1:55. Plavi raced in third position early on behind hot fractions and figures to be forwardly placed again in the Cattleya.

Continuar is an intriguing contender. He is conditioned by Yoshito Yahagi, the trainer of 2020 Japanese Triple Crown winner Contrail. Yoshito is no stranger to success in the United States, having saddled Love Only You and Marche Lorraine to victories at the 2021 Breeders’ Cup, so it’s not a stretch to think we’ll see Continuar wind up on the Triple Crown trail.

Continuar is bred for success on dirt - he’s a son of Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Drefong - and he started his career on a fine note when parlaying a forwardly placed trip into victory over 1,800 meters in a race for first-time starters. Over a muddy track at Hanshin, Continuar wore down the pacesetter and held off a midpack closer to score by one length in 1:56.1 seconds.

The winning time may have been modest, but that was partly the result of a slow pace. Continuar actually finished up nicely down the homestretch, running the final 600 meters (about three furlongs) in 37.6 seconds, tied for the fastest closing fraction in the field.

Continuar subsequently stepped up in class for the 1,800-meter Mochinoki Sho at Hanshin, which can be considered equivalent to an allowance race. Once again, Continuar unleashed a strong finish off a modest pace, sprinting the final 600 meters in 37.4 seconds over a fast (“standard”) track. But Continuar came out on the wrong side of a photo finish, settling for second place by a nose.

Continuar’s strong try against proven winners is encouraging considering eight of his nine Cattleya rivals are last-out maiden winners. If he can nab first prize in the Cattleya, a nomination to the Triple Crown might be a formality for Continuar.

Among the up-and-coming maiden winners, Il Divino ranks among the most interesting. In his debut racing 1,800 meters at Nakayama, Il Divino led all the way under Japan’s perennial leading jockey Christophe Lemaire to win by a head in 1:55.2 seconds. Lemaire retains the mount for the Cattleya.

Remember Mind Your Biscuits, the New York-bred sprinter who won two editions of the rich Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1)? He has a couple of sons entered to race in the Cattleya. Mirror of Mind was powerful in his debut over 1,700 meters (about 1 1/16-miles) at Sapporo during the summer, charging the final 600 meters in 37.8 seconds to win by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:47.

Meanwhile, Toa Raiden nabbed a 1,800-meter turf test on debut at Kokura before running fourth in the 2,000-meter Kigiku Sho at Hanshin. Toa Raiden has shown pacesetting speed in both of his starts and may appreciate switching surfaces, considering Mind Your Biscuits was a tried-and-true dirt star.

Continuing through the field, Young World showed an affinity for the Cattleya track and distance when nabbing a maiden race in his second start. Improving sharply off his seventh-place debut, Young World settled in second position early on before accelerating the final 600 meters in a snappy 37.6 seconds to score by 2 1/2 lengths in 1:38.7.

Margot Reve is the lone filly in the Cattleya field. The daughter of 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic starter Espoir City took on male rivals when debuting over 1,400 meters (about seven furlongs) at Tokyo Racecourse and finished up nicely, running the final 600 meters in 37.1 seconds to win by a length in 1:25.

Suna Ichi Gold was beaten in his first two starts on turf, but the son of Declaration of War thrived when switching to dirt for a 1,600-meter maiden race at Tokyo Racecourse, carving out the pace before coming home the final 600 meters in 37.8 seconds to beat 10 rivals by three lengths.

Francorchamps was nowhere to be found in his debut racing 1,400 meters over the Tokyo turf course, finishing 12th. But switching to dirt for a 1,700-meter maiden heat at Fukushima produced a turnaround, coming home in 38.6 seconds to win by a neck in 1:48.8.

Completing the Cattleya field is Jasri, who debuted over 1,600 meters at Tokyo Racecourse and rallied from 10th place to conquer a large field of 15 rivals by one length. His winning time of 1:40.4 seconds wasn’t anything to write home about, but Jasri did accelerate the final 600 meters in an excellent 36.8 seconds, suggesting the son of Rulership has talent and upside for improvement.

Four horses based in Japan have run in the Kentucky Derby: Ski Captain (14th 1995), Lani (ninth 2016), Master Fencer (sixth 2019) and Crown Pride (13th 2022).

Top Stories

Based on speed figures, Angel of Empire might seem...
Florida racing officials allege that medication vi...
Trainer Jena Antonucci said Thursday that Arcangel...
Secret Oath had her final drill before an expected...
June is kicking off in a big way as far as high-qu...