Led by defending champion Inti (JPN), Mozu Ascot and Arctos (JPN), a field of 16 horses has been entered for Sunday's 37th running of the 1-mile, $2 million February Stakes (G1) on dirt at Tokyo Racecourse. The February Stakes is the first automatic qualifier for this year's $6 million Longines Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) to be awarded through the Breeders' Cup Challenge series.
The Breeders' Cup Challenge is an international series of stakes races whose winners receive automatic starting positions and fees paid into a corresponding race in the Breeders' Cup World Championships, which will be held this year at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky, on Nov. 6-7.
The February Stakes will be televised on TVG, with approximate post time of 10:40 p.m. PT on Saturday evening in the U.S.
As a part of the benefits of the Challenge series, the Breeders' Cup will pay the pre-entry and entry fees for the winner of Sunday's race to start in the 1 ¼-mile Breeders' Cup Classic, and also will provide a $40,000 travel allowance for all starters based outside of North America to compete in the World Championships. If not Breeders' Cup eligible, the Challenge winner must be nominated to the Breeders' Cup program by the pre-entry deadline of Oct. 26 to receive the rewards.
With a win on Sunday, Shigeo Takeda's 6-year-old Inti would become just the second horse to capture the February Stakes twice. A chestnut son of Santa Anita Derby and Pacific Classic winner Came Home out of the Northern Afleet mare Kitty (JPN), Inti won last year's race by a neck over Gold Dream (JPN) as the 8-5 favorite. Trained by Kenji Nonaka, Inti has won seven times in 13 starts, and comes into Sunday's race off two recent third-place finishes. On Dec. 1 at Chukyo, Inti was beaten 1 ½ lengths by Chrysoberyl (JPN), the Japanese Dirt Horse of the Year, in the 1 1/8-mile Champions Cup (G1). He began 2020 taking the show spot in the 1 1/8-mile Tokai TV Hai Tokai Stakes (G2) at Kyoto on Jan. 26, finishing a half-length behind Air Almas (JPN) and Vengeance (JPN) as the 13-10 favorite over a muddy track.
“I was happy with his last run where he finished third, especially considering he had to carry 58kg (127 pounds),” said Nonaka. “His condition will improve from that run, and with just the one turn in this next race, it'll be better for him.”
Yutaka Take, a record five-time winner of the February Stakes, including last year's race, has the mount aboard Inti.
After 19 starts on turf, Capital System's 6-year-old Mozu Ascot, made his dirt track debut in the Negishi Stakes (G3) on Feb. 2 at Tokyo and swept by a half-dozen horses in the final furlong to a 1 ¼-length victory for trainer Yoshito Yahagi. It was Mozu Ascot's first win since taking the Group 1 Yasuda Kinen in June 2018. His best finish last year was a second-place effort by a nose to Diatonic (JPN) in the Swan Stakes at Kyoto on Oct. 26.
On his big win in the Negishi, assistant trainer Yusaku Oka said, “It was his first start on dirt last time, and despite not getting off to the quickest start, he didn't mind the kickback and ran on well late to win, showing his ability to run on dirt. He's a high-class horse as he's shown in his turf races, which have included a win in the Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen,”
A chestnut son of Frankel (GB) out of India by Hennessy, Mozu Ascot, who will be ridden by Christophe Lemaire, was bred in Kentucky by Summer Wind Farm.
Another runner with an even greater affinity for the Tokyo dirt course is Koichiro Yamaguchi's 5-year-old Arctos. A bay son of Admire Aura (JPN), trained by Toru Kurita, Arctos has won five of six starts at Tokyo, including both the 1-mile Oasis Stakes and the 6-furlong Keyaki Stakes last spring. The February Stakes will be his first start since finishing second by 1 ½ lengths to Sunrise Nova (JPN) in the Mile Championship at Morioka on Oct. 26.
The 7-year-old Vengeance is also a formidable contender. Trained by Hiroyuki Oneda for owner/breeder Junzo Miyakawa, Vengeance won two races in 2019 prior to his second-place finish in last month's Tokai TV Hai Tokai Stakes, taking the 1 1/8-mile Miyako Stakes (G3) at Kyoto on Nov. 3, and the seven-furlong Tempozan Stakes at Hanshin on June 8. The chestnut son of Casino Drive (JPN) is 7 for 27 lifetime.
Oneda has confidence in Vengeance following his runner-up performance in the Hai Stakes: “He was in good shape for his last run, and among that field he had one of the best closing three-furlong times in the race. He won the Miyako Stakes in a faster time, but with this latest race, I think he's done well.”
Takao Matsuoka's 6-year-old Sunrise Nova, who finished seventh in last year's February Stakes, will be making his first start of 2020. Trained by Hidetaka Otonashi, Sunrise Nova, a chestnut son of Gold Allure (JPN) out of the Thunder Gulch mare Bright Sapphire (JPN), closed out last season on Nov. 9 with a fifth-place finish in the 1-mile Tokyo Chunichi Sports Hai Musashino Stakes (G3) at Tokyo, beaten four lengths. The Musashino was his first start after winning the Mile Championship at Morioka.
Also of interest is Chizu Yoshida's Nonkono Yume (JPN), who won the 2018 February Stakes, and comes into Sunday's race off a second-place finish in the 1 ¼-mile Tokyo Daishoten Stakes on Dec. 29 at Ohi.
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