Led by U. Carrot Farm's 5-year-old 2017 Japanese Derby (G1) winner Rey de Oro (JPN) and rival Tatsue Ishikawa's 5-year-old Kiseki (JPN), runner-up in last year's Japan Cup (G1), a field of 12 has been entered for Sunday's 60th running of the 1 3/8-mile, US$2.826 million Takarazuka Kinen (G1) at Hanshin Racecourse. The winner of the Takarazuka Kinen will earn an automatic berth into the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) through the international Breeders' Cup Challenge.
The Breeders' Cup Challenge is an international series of 86 stakes races, whose winners receive automatic starting positions and fees paid into a corresponding race of the Breeders' Cup World Championships, which will be held at Santa Anita Park, in Arcadia, California, Nov 1-2. As part of the benefits of the Challenge series, Breeders' Cup will pay the entry fees for the Takarazuka Kinen winner to start in the 1 1//2 mile Longines Turf. Breeders' Cup also will provide a $40,000 travel allowance for all starters based outside of North America to compete in the World Championships.
Rey de Oro, trained by Kazuo Fujisawa and ridden by Christophe Lemaire, has won two Group 1 races among his five career wins. The bay son of King Kamehameha (JPN) out of Lady Dorada (JPN) by Symboli Kris S, won the 1 ¼-mile Tenno Sho last Oct. 28 at Tokyo Racecourse to go along with his Japanese Derby (Tokyo Yushun) triumph the year before. The Tenno Sho was a part of a successful fall campaign which began with a Group 2 win in the 1 3/8-mile Sankei Sho All Comers at Nakayama on Sept. 23. He closed the year finishing second by a neck to Blast Onepiece (JPN) in the Amira Kinen (G1) on Dec. 23.
Sunday's race will be Rey de Oro's first in Japan this year after his seasonal debut in the 1 ½-mile Longines Sheema Classic (G1) at Meydan in Dubai, where he finished a disappointing sixth of eight runners as the 11-4 second choice.
“He was too excitable in Dubai and doesn't seem to like night races,” said Lemaire. “He was keen under way in spots and was flagging at the end. He's always relaxed in Japan, so I'm confident. The pace will be important over 2,200 meters. It's a smaller track and the stretch is pretty short. With a slow pace, racing from a rear position will make things harder. This year, Kiseki is in the lineup, so I think there'll be a good pace.”
Rey de Oro has a victory over the Hanshin course, which was as a two-length win over Kiseki in the 2017 Kobe Shimbun Ha (Japanese St. Leger Trial).
Kiseki, trained by Tatsue Ishikawa, will be racing at Hanshin for the second time this year following a second-place finish by a neck to Al Ain (JPN) in the 1 ½-mile Osaka Hai (G1) on March 31 as the 3-1 second choice. A dark bay son of Rulership (JPN) out of the Deep Impact (JPN) mare Blitz Finale (JPN), Kiseki has been in the thick of it during his last eight starts, but is seeking his first win since taking Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger) in October of 2017. His second place finish to Almond Eye (JPN) in the Japan Cup was followed by a fifth-place finish in the Amari Kinen.
Said assistant trainer Yasuyuki Tsujino, “Last week he had a solid workout on the woodchip course so on Wednesday we just gave him a breeze to see how he felt. And he was fantastic. He's had less time off than he did before the Osaka Hai and I think he was easier to get ready this time.”
The 5-year-old Suave Richard (JPN), by Heart's Cry (JPN) out of the Unbridled's Song mare Pirramimma, has a win over the course, taking the 1 ¼ -mile Osaka Hai last April for trainer Yasushi Shono. In the fall, he raced well in the Japan Cup as the 11-2 third choice, fighting for the lead into the final furlong, but winding up third behind Almond Eye and Kiseki. Like Rey de Oro, Suave Richard also is making his first start since the Longines Sheema Classic in Dubai, where he finished strongly in third, two lengths behind the winner. Mirco Demuro is scheduled for the ride Suave Richard on Sunday.
The lone female in Sunday's field is the 5-year-old mare Lys Gracieux (JPN), also from U. Carrot Farm, who will be making her ninth career Group 1 start on Sunday for trainer Yoshito Yahagi. Known for her late-closing kick, Lys Gracieux, a bay daughter of Heart's Cry (JPN), won the 1 3/8-mile Queen Elizabeth II (G1) Cup at Kyoto last November and then finished in the money in three more Group stakes events against males, two of those at Sha Tin in Hong Kong. On Dec. 9, she finished second by a neck to Exultant (IRE) in the 1 ¼-mile Longines Hong Kong Vase (G1). She returned home and began 2019 with a second-place finish in the 1 ¼ mile Kinko Sho (G2) at Chukyo on March 10, and then went back to Hong Kong for the FWD QEII Cup (G1), where she finished third, beaten one length. Lys Gracieux will be ridden Damien Lane.
Sunday Racing's 5-year-old Al Ain, a bay son of Deep Impact out of 2010 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner Dubai Majesty, by Essence of Dubai, will be making his third start of the year following a win in the Osaka Hai at Hanshin. It was his first victory since taking the 2017 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas). In his only other start this year, he finished fifth in the Kinko Sho. Trained by Yasutoshi Ikee, Al Ain will be ridden by Yuichi Kitamura.
The Takarazuka Kinen is the fourth “Win and You're In” qualifier for the Breeders' Cup Turf thus far in 2019. The first three qualifiers are: Il Mercato (ARG), winner of the Gran Premio International Carlos Pellegrini (G1) at San Isidro in Argentina; George Washington (BRZ), winner of the Grande Premio Brasil (G1) at Gavea in Brazil and Crystal Ocean, who captured last Wednesday's Prince of Wales's Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot in England.
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