Shirl’s Speight draws post 2 for overnight Grade 1 in Japan

Shirl’s Speight draws post 2 for overnight Grade 1 in Japan
Photo: Michael Burns

Shirl’s Speight, who finished second last fall in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, drew post No. 2 in a field of 16 older horses for this weekend’s $1,734,570 February Stakes, the first Grade 1 on the 2023 Japan racing calendar.

“I’m not really happy with that, but it is what it is,” trainer Roger Attfield said of the gate assignment for Sunday’s 1:40 a.m. EST dirt race at Tokyo Racecourse. “A wider draw would have been more preferable, but we just have to cope with it. The jockey will.”

RELATED: Thumbnails on Japan runners in February Stakes.

Four-time Hong Kong riding champion João Moreira has the assignment on Shirl’s Speight, who this time last year was in the middle of a three-race winning streak that peaked with the Maker’s Mark Mile (G1) at Keeneland.

“He seems quite happy being schooled today,” Attfield told the Japan Racing Association on Friday. “He’s coping with it all very well. I think he’s lonely. He hasn’t seen other horses for some time.”

Sunday’s race covering one left turn will be the first race on dirt in eight months for the 6-year-old Speightstown horse bred and owned by Charles Fipke. Shirl’s Speight arrived in Japan on Feb. 8 and will be the first international horse to race in the 40-year history of the February Stakes.

“He lost about 15 pounds, but taking into consideration the 60 hours it took to get here, he’s fine and in good health,” Attfield said. “He had an extensive work pattern before he came here, which enabled me not to have to do too much with him here, so fitness-wise he’s OK. (Saturday) he will train more or less the same as he did today. He’ll gallop a little stronger at the last part of the gallop.”

Lemon Pop, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred horse, has the recent form to merit being the favorite Sunday. The 5-year-old by Lemon Drop Kid comes into the race with five wins in his last six starts with the only loss in that span being by a nose in a Grade 3 mile over the same course as the February Stakes. Owned by Godolphin, the winner of a Grade 3 and three other stakes is a stalker who never has finished worse than second in 10 starts, all in Japan. Getting jockey Ryusei Sakai for the first time, Lemon Pop will start from post No. 7 for trainer Hiroyasu Tanaka.

Dry Stout, a 4-year-old Sinister Minister colt, comes back from a second-place finish last month in a listed, seven-furlong stakes at Chukyo. A stakes winner at Tokyo last fall, he is 1-for-2 at a mile or more, winning at that exact distance in a local-level race in December 2021 before losing a 1 3/16-mile test in the same competition class in May. Keita Tosaki, who also had ridden Lemon Pop, will stay on Dry Stout coming out of post No. 4 for trainer Mitsunori Makiura.

Meisho Hairo, a 6-year-old Pyro horse, closed from eighth to finish third Dec. 29 at Oi in the Tokyo Daishoten, a race recognized as a Grade 1 internationally but not by the Japan Racing Association. That was at 1 1/4 miles, the distance at which he was a winner last summer over the same Oi course. Trainer Inao Okada cuts Meisho Hario back to a mile for the first time since a 2021 stakes victory over the same track as Sunday’s race. Regular rider Inao Okada will ride from post No. 6.

How does Shirl’s Speight fit in? Attfield said he did not know yet.

“I haven’t studied the other horses in depth, but basically, if he can handle the going, which I think he can, he will be very competitive,” Attfield said. “Basically, it’s up to the jockey, and I have a very experienced jockey who has ridden here many times.”

Dry weather was forecast for the Tokyo weekend with a Sunday high of 66 degrees under a cloudy sky, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.

Shirl’s Speight and the other 13 males in the race will carry 128 pounds each. Shonan Nadeshiko and Speedy Kick, the two females, were assigned 123 pounds apiece.

Top Stories

Seeing a 12-horse field and a 2-1 morning line fav...
Asterisks notwithstanding, Mandaloun and Country H...
In this biweekly series, racing analyst Keeler Joh...
Keep track of graded stakes on HRN : Stakes Schedu...
Lacking points preps last week, the top of the Las...