Pity the value player who bets big races in Japan.
It is a recurring theme that goes back to December. Eight of the last nine Grade 1 races there have been won by the first or second betting choice. Throw out an exceptional 31-1 upset by a Speightstown mare that was promoted by stewards, and the average payout on a $2 win ticket has been only $6.62.
This weekend Resistencia has her chance to contribute to the trend. Taking on the boys for the first time, she figures to be the favorite for the 23rd running of the $2.1 million NHK Mile Cup (G1). The left-handed, one-turn turf race for 3-year-old colts and fillies will be run Sunday at 2:40 a.m. EDT at an empty Tokyo Racecourse.
Already short-priced in early betting overseas, Resistencia (13-8) is a familiar favorite. She was 5-2 just last month when she finished second in a downpour to 3-1 Daring Tact at the Oka Shō (G1), Japan’s version of the guineas for fillies.
“She came out of the Oka Shō well despite the heavy ground,” trainer Takeshi Matsushita said. “She looked good last week working under her new jockey.”
That would be Christophe Lemaire, Japan’s winningest rider each of the last three years. He takes over on a stalking filly that was the champion of her division in 2019. But even though she has been in the money in both her starts this year, she was still a beaten favorite each time.
The yielding course probably worked most against Resistencia last month. She was well positioned just off the heels of longshot pacesetter Smile Kana. But they got locked in a duel down the stretch, and that proved to be too taxing at the end. Daring Tact caught them both and left Resistencia still looking for her first victory as a 3-year-old.
While she also has the challenge of racing counterclockwise for the first time, Resistencia does have her sire going for her. Part of the long list of Japanese stallions by Sunday Silence, Daiwa Major has been responsible for three of the last eight winners of the NHK Mile Cup, including last year with Admire Mars.
Another factor working in her favor is the lack of early speed in the race. If no one else wants the lead, Lemaire could take Resistencia there in hopes of repeating what she did late last year. That was when she led from gate to wire in winning the one-mile Hanshin Juvenile Fillies in a stakes-record time of 1:32.7.
Three colts that are all closers figure to carry short odds in the second tier of betting. Taisei Vision (4-1) was a Grade 3 mile winner three weeks ago at Hanshin in his first race since finishing second Dec. 15 in the Asahi Hai Futurity (G1). Despite being unraced as a 2-year-old, Luftstrom (4-1) maintained his undefeated record in a Grade 2 mile last month at Nakayama. Also lightly raced at 3-for-3, Satono Impresa (4-1) makes a big class jump while cutting back from a 1 1/8-mile Grade 3 victory in late March at Hanshin.
The most prominent American link to Sunday’s race may be with maiden-winning filly Gilded Mirror (16-1). Sired by 2011 Japanese champion Orfèvre, she is out of a mare by two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Tiznow. Three weeks ago Gilded Mirror finished second to Taisei Vision in that Grade 3 mile at Hanshin. She has raced against colts in her last four starts, earning a 7-furlong victory and two second-place finishes at a mile.
A forecast of dry weather in Tokyo this weekend adds to the case for Resistencia. But value players will note that favorites have been beaten in the NHK Mile Cup each year since Major Emblem scored at 13-10 odds in 2016. On the other hand, a short-priced second choice has won two of the last three.
There was the one recent exception to the chalky Grade 1 rule. A 5-year-old mare by 2004 U.S. champion sprinter Speightstown, Mozu Superflare was awarded the longshot victory March 29 in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen (G1) sprint for older horses after stewards charged a late-closing rival with interference.
Throw that out, and maybe the smart play in Japan is to simply follow the smart money.