Japan racing has a big day coming up on 2 October. Not only will 2016 Japan Derby winner Makahiki and Christophe Lemaire go for gold in the G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France, but Japan’s top sprinters will be going all out in the G1 Sprinters Stakes.
The Sprinters Stakes was Japan’s first sprint to gain G1 status and marks its 50th running this year. A popular race for runners from Hong Kong, including Silent Witness, who bagged it in 2005, recent years have seen fewer raiders from abroad. This year it is an all-Japan lineup once again.
It will be a colourful field, boasting this year’s top two from the G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen held at Chukyo in March. After those two, attention turns to the G2 Centaur Stakes runner-up Nero.
Takamatsunomiya Kinen champion Big Arthur is currently the top pick. The five-year-old son of two-time Sprinters Stakes champion Sakura Bakushin O won his first G1 in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen, then returned from his summer vacation to scoop the G2 Centaur Stakes on 11 September at Hanshin. He did it with a new, impressive style, with rider Yuichi Fukunaga deciding to take the lead from the gate and they managed to hold that lead to win by a length over Nero.
Mikki Isle, a five-year-old son of Deep Impact, is considered Big Arthur’s biggest rival. Runner-up in this year’s Takamatsunomiya Kinen, Mikki Isle has had no prep for the Sprinters Stakes. The horse is known for his high tension and trainer Hidetaka Otonashi thought it best to keep him calm and go to the race as mentally fresh as possible. Mikki Isle ran fourth in the Sprinters Stakes last year and seventh in the G1 Hong Kong Sprint, and has yet to win a 1200m sprint in four tries.
Also by Sakura Bakushin O is Bel Canto, a five-year-old mare from the stable of former jockey Koichi Tsunoda, who turned in the top score for the Summer Sprint Series, six sprints over 1000-1200m. Bel Canto ran in three of them, winning one and finishing second and third in the other two. In her last outing, the G3 Kitakyushu Kinen, Bel Canto finished second, a length behind the winner.
The grey filly Blanc Bonheur has a perfect record in all three of her 1200m tests and just recently topped Shuji, Let’s Go Donki and Solveig in capturing the G3 Keeneland Cup on 28 August at Sapporo Racecourse. It is believed this girl has a lot more to give.
Keeneland runner-up Shuji is a three-year-old colt that has been looking especially good after transferring to the stable of Naosuke Sugai. He ran second in the G3 Hakodate Sprint in June prior to the Keeneland, both 1200m races.
The five-year-old Nero, runner-up in the Centaur Stakes, has proven a rather consistent runner over his career, having finished more than half his races in the top three spots. He has had especially good results in his six turf outings at Nakayama, winning twice and finishing second twice, He is said to have come out of the Centaur Stakes well and to be in good shape.
Looking to turn the tables on the ample amount of early speed in the field is the six-year-old Dance Director. Returning to the track for the first time since the end of January, Dance Director finished seventh in the Centaur Stakes, but only two lengths behind the winner after coming from far off the pace. Depending on how the race pans out, Dance Director’s plus could be his late speed.