Tonight’s Osaka Hai (G1) at Hanshin (post time 2:40 a.m. ET) promises to be a formful affair, but the presence of a few top-notchers suggests that the winner could go off at a fair price.
I’m siding with #5 Lucky Lilac (4-1) for three reasons: her proven Group 1 form, including versus males; the distance; and the fact she receives a five-pound allowance as a female.
Japan’s champion 2-year-old filly of 2017, Lucky Lilac turned in three straight top efforts at this course when capturing the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies (G1) and Tulip Sho (G2) and placing second to then-invincible Almond Eye in the 2018 Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) (G1). She went to the sidelines after a third to Almond Eye in the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) (G1) and took time to regain her winning form.
Lucky Lilac finally did so in style in last fall’s Queen Elizabeth 2 Cup (G1) at Kyoto, zipping her last 600 meters (about 3 furlongs) in :32.8 and leaving #12 Chrono Genesis (4-1) back in fifth. Chrono Genesis bookended that loss with two convincing wins in the Shuka Sho (G1), the final Japanese fillies’ classic, and most recently the Kyoto Kinen (G2). In both, Chrono Genesis dispatched Japan Cup (G1) runner-up Curren Bouquetd’or. While it’s possible that Chrono Genesis can progress past Lucky Lilac, I continue to give the edge to the older distaffer until the QE2 result is overturned on the racecourse.
In her next start, Lucky Lilac stepped up to about 1 1/2 miles for the Hong Kong Vase (G1), looming but outkicked by proven stayer Glory Vase in the final furlong. Even so, she edged Hong Kong champion Exultant and Japanese globetrotter Deirdre for second.
Yet the most interesting Hong Kong angle is a what-if: Lucky Lilac would have been a major contender in the event anchoring the International Races, the Hong Kong Cup (G1), at this about 1 1/4-mile trip. With Almond Eye expected there, Lucky Lilac instead signed up for the Vase. Had connections known that Almond Eye would end up having to miss Hong Kong, I’d argue Lucky Lilac would have been in the Cup, not the Vase. I’m tempted to say Lucky Lilac might even have won at Sha Tin.
Lucky Lilac returned with a staying-on second to #8 Danon Kingly (3-1) in the March 1 Nakayama Kinen (G2) that should put her spot-on for tonight. Danon Kingly warrants great respect here, the lone caveat being that the Nakayama Kinen and his other signature wins have come at about 9 furlongs. He’s effective over further, missing in a three-way thriller in last year’s Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) (G1) in his only try at this trip and finishing second in the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) (G1). My instinct, though, is that this distance stretches him a tad especially at the top level.
#3 Blast Onepiece (4-1), Japan’s champion 3-year-old colt of 2018, clinched the title by defeating elders in the prestigious Arima Kinen (G1). While Blast Onepiece was sixth as the favorite in this race last year, he was making his first start of the 2019 season. This time he has the benefit of a prep, warming up with a victory in the Jan. 26 American Jockey Club Cup (G2).
#4 Wagnerian (5-1), last seen third in the Japan Cup, was a close third here off a longer layoff in the 2019 running. The lack of recency for him isn’t so much of a question as the distance that’s a shade short of ideal. The 2018 Japan Derby star is bound to run well if likelier in the minor placings. A similar point applies to the 2016 Japan Derby winner, #9 Makahiki (20-1). Twice fourth in this race as well as in the Japan Cup, Makahiki has superfecta appeal.
The one with bomb potential is #10 Jinambo (45-1), a still relatively unexposed son of Deep Impact and Japanese Filly Triple Crown winner Apapane. A tilt at the Japan Cup proved overambitious, so it’s intriguing that trainer Noriyuki Hori is giving him another Grade 1 shot. But note that his best results are at this trip. Reappearing 20 kilograms heavier in the Feb. 23 Kokura Daishoten (G3), he was a better-than-appears third. Jinambo was the only one in proximity to the early pace to hold for a placing in a finish dominated by closers, and he had beaten the Kokura winner Cadenas when runner-up in last year’s Niigata Kinen (G3). Jinambo doesn’t have the established class of fellow Kaneko Makoto homebreds Wagnerian and Makahiki, but he continues to hint there’s more to come.