Led by Godolphin's multiple-group stakes winner Fine Needle (JPN) and defending two-time champion Red Falx (JPN), a field of 16 has been entered for Sunday's six furlong, $2,169,091 Sprinters Stakes (G1) at Nakayama Racecourse, with the winner receiving an automatic berth into the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint through the international Breeders' Cup Clallenge.
The Breeders' Cup Challenge is an international series of 85 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 Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky on Nov. 2-3.
Fine Needle, trained by Yoshitada Takahashi and ridden by Yuga Kawada, returned from a four-month layoff to score an impressive 1 ½-length victory over Love Kampf (JPN) on Sept. 6 at Hanshin in the six-furlong Centaur Stakes (G2) over a yielding course as the 12-5 favorite.
A 5-year-old bay son of Admire Moon (JPN), Fine Needle registered his third win in four starts – all at six furlongs – this year. He began 2018 by winning the Silk Road Stakes (G3) at Kyoto by two lengths over Suien Kosei (JPN) on Jan. 28. He came back in March and took the Group 1 Takamatsumomiya Kinen at Chukyo by a nose over Let's Go Donki (JPN). He was sent to Hong Kong in late April for the Group 1 Chairman's Prize at Sha Tin, where he finished fourth beaten four lengths.
“He's a smart horse who runs well with a good rhythm, and what's more he knows what to do, especially when it comes to switching on and off,” said Takahashi to JRA.com. “I don't think the 1,200 meters at Nakayama poses a problem, particularly the way he's running right now. It's been good working with him day by day, and hopefully we can achieve a big win for the Godolphin team.”
Red Falx, a 7-year-old gray horse, owned by Tokyo Horse Racing Co., and trained by Keita Tosaki, is seeking a record third Sprinters Stakes. A son of Swept Overboard out of Vermouth (JPN) by 1989 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Sunday Silence, Red Falx has not fared as well this year after a third-place finish in Hanyu Hi Stakes (G3) at Hanshin. He subsequently finished eighth in the Takamatsumomiya Kinen as the 13-10 favorite, and was ninth in the “Win and You're In” Yasuda Kinen at one mile at Tokyo Racecourse on June 25.
However, his jockey, Keita Tosaki, is unconcerned. “He feels like a Grade 1 horse the minute you get on him. His last piece of work was very good, and he's able to switch gears, along with his skillful footwork. He moves very well. One of the keys will be to get a good start and then get into the race smoothly.”
Shigeyuki Nishiyama's 5-year-old Seiun Kosei (JPN), another son of Admire Moon, has seven wins and six seconds from 23 career starts, and bounced back last time when winning the Grade 3, Hakodate Sprint Stakes over 1,200 meters in June. Trained by Horoyuki Sugiura and ridden by Kenichi Ikezoe, Seiun Kosei will try to improve upon last year's 11th place finish in this race.
Let's Go Donki is one of five female starters in Sunday's race. The versatile 6-year-old mare, owned by Hirosaki Toshihiro HD Co. and trained by Tomoyuki Umeda, appears up for another challenge in the Sprinters Stakes after finishing second in last year's running and second in this year's Grade 1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen at Chukyo in March.
“In domestic Grade 1 sprint races, she's finished second three times, and she was so close in last year's Sprinters Stakes and this year's Takamatsunomiya Kinen,” said Umeda. “Her rotation has been different going into this year's Sprinters Stakes, and I'm not anxious about anything. She's been doing her usual in training, and even though she's getting older, I really want her to use her power and finally win another big race.”
Adding further intrigue to the race is the arrival from Hong Kong of the Lucky Syndicate's 7-year-old Lucky Bubbles, an Australian bred son of Sebring. Trained by Kin-wai Lui, Lucky Bubbles has four career wins, and comes into Sunday's race from a third place finish in June in the seven-furlong Premier Cup (G3) at Sha Tin. Kin has been tempted before to come to Japan with Lucky Bubbles, but has resisted up until now.
“The JRA staff invited this horse two years ago to race in the Sprinters Stakes, but he was still young, and with the major races in Hong Kong that would follow, I worried at that time whether the horse would travel well back and forth and be able to handle it,” said Kin. “But now, the Hong Kong sprinters are very strong, and I feel it is the right time to challenge a new stage.”
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