Led by former champions Gold Dream (JPN), Nonkono Yume (JPN), and Moanin, and the speedy Inti (JPN) 14 horses have been entered for Sunday's 36th running of the one mile, $870,000 February Stakes (G1) on dirt at Tokyo Racecourse, the first automatic qualifier for this year's $6 million 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 Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California on November 1-2.
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 will also provide a US$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. 21to receive the rewards.
Gold Dream, a bay 6-year-old son of Gold Allure (JPN), trained by Osamu Hirata, won the 2017 February Stakes, and just fell a neck short of a repeat win when he finished second to Nonkono Yume in last year's edition. Gold Dream, bred by Northern Farm, won two races in 2018, the one-mile Kashiwa Kinen at Funabashi and the 1 1/8-mile Teio Sho at Ohi. Ridden by Christophe Lemaire from post 3, Gold Dream, 8 for 18 lifetime, comes into Sunday's race off a second-place finish to Omega Perfume (JPN) in the 1 ¼-mile Daishoten Stakes at Ohi on Dec. 29 as the 6-5 favorite.
“It's been the usual pattern with him, giving him a break at Northern Farm Shigaraki,” said Hirata to JRA.com. “He came back to the stable on the 23rd of last month, and everything's fine with him, including a piece of uphill work in around 52 seconds on the 30th, when he moved very well.”
Nonkono Yume (JPN), a 7-year-old chestnut gelded son of Twining, trained by Yukihiro Kato, will be starting in his third consecutive February Stakes for owner Chizu Yoshida. In addition to last year's victory, he was second behind Moanin in the 2016 edition as the 7-5 favorite, and was seventh, beaten four lengths in the 2017 race. Nonkono Yume had three fourth-place finishes in ungraded events following last year's February Stakes win, and was recently seventh in the Group 1 1 1/8-mile Champions Cup at Chukyo on Dec. 2. Hiroyuki Uchida has the mount breaking from post 13.
Yukio Baba's 7-year-old Moanin was the first horse from Japan to gain a Win and You're In position into the Classic when he captured the 2016 February Stakes in a stakes record 1:34.20. Trained by Sei Ishizaka, Moanin comes into this year's race following a fourth-place finish behind Copano Kicking in the seven-furlong Negishi Stakes (G3) at Tokyo on Jan. 27. Ridden by Ryuji Wada from post 8, Moanin won the six-furlong Korea Sprint in Seoul on Sept. 9. Moanin was bred in New York by Empire Equines LLC.
The 4-year-old Copano Kicking and the 5-year-old Inti (JPN) enter Sunday's race off hot winning streaks. Copano Kicking, bred in Kentucky by Reiley McDonald, is a bay gelding by Spring at Last out of Celadon by Gold Halo. Owned by Sachiaki Kobayashi and trained by Akira Murayama, Copano Kicking has won his last four starts, all sprints, including his recent score in the Negishi, and prior to that, a win in the six furlong Capella Stakes (G3) at Nakayma on Dec. 9. Nanako Fugita will ride from post 11.
Inti, a chestnut son of Came Home, owned by Shigeo Takeda and trained by Kenji Nonaka, has won five consecutive races, including the Group 2 Tokai TV Hai Tokai Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on Jan. 20 at Chukyo, and won at the distance in an allowance over the same course back in July. After that Inti won two allowance races at Kyoto. Yutaka Take, who has won this race four times in his brilliant career, will ride from post 6.
Reiko Hara's Omega Perfume, who in addition to his win over Gold Dream in the Tokyo Daishoten, captured the 1 ¼ mile Sirius Stakes (G3) on Sept. 29 at Hanshin. A 4-year-old gray by Swept Overboard out of Omega Fragrance (JPN) by Gold Allure (JPN), Omega Perfume finished second in his next start, the 1 3/16-mile JBC Classic at Kyoto, and was fifth in the Group 1 Champions Cup. Trained by Shogo Yasuda, Omega Perfume will be ridden by Micro Demuro from post 14.
Also of interest is Shadai Race Horse's consistent 5-year-old Yuranoto (JPN), who was second to Copano King in the Negeshi by three-quarters of a length. A chestnut son of King Kamehameha, trained by Kunihide Matsuda, Yuranoto won the Bakushu Stakes at Tokyo last June at seven furlongs and followed that effort with a win in the Marine Stakes at Hakodate on July 8. Yuranoto will break from post under Yuichi Fukunaga.
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