While stretching to 1 1/2 miles has become a moot point this year in the U.S. Triple Crown, it is still an important question that must be asked at the next major race for 3-year-old fillies in Japan.
Early bettors see it as no problem for Daring Tact (4-5), the undefeated odds-on favorite in early overseas betting for the $2.2 million Japanese Oaks (G1) – the 81st Yūshun Himba – Sunday at 2:40 a.m. ET on what is expected to be good to firm turf at Tokyo.
An impressive, 1 1/2-length winner in last month’s rain-soaked Ōka Shō (G1) – Japan’s 1000 Guineas – Daring Tact’s 3-for-3 record has been built entirely on one-mile starts. This will also be her first time racing counterclockwise.
“From her morning work to the left I don’t see any problem with the direction,” her trainer Haruki Sugiyama said. “And she should handle the distance if she remains relaxed.”
Drawn favorably into post 4 and ridden as usual by Kohei Matsuyama, this is likely to be Daring Tact’s first experience as a post-time favorite. Not that she would know that, especially since this will be her second time racing without fans in the stands. The quiet should be a bonus for connections, since she has already developed a reputation for being difficult.
But lineage is in Daring Tact’s favor. She is a first-crop filly by Epiphaneia, ranked the world’s best stayer six years ago by the International Federation of Racehorse Authorities. And unlike the Belmont Stakes (G1), being a deep closer should work to her advantage. Eleven of the last 14 winners of the Yūshun Himba, including the two that were in a dead-heat in 2010, were no better than seventh turning into the stretch.
It is the same style that likely second choice Des Ailes (4-1) brings to the race. Unraced until March, she is nevertheless unbeaten in her only two races, both at 1 1/8 miles. She is making her graded-stakes debut coming off a black-type win three weeks ago at Tokyo. Leading Japanese trainer Yasuo Tomomichi looks after the Deep Impact filly that will be ridden by Australian jockey Damian Lane from the rail post.
“Even though her career is short, she has already passed many tests,” Tomomichi said. “I think the Tokyo mile and a half should suit her.”
Five other pure closers are in the race. Out of 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) winner Ria Antonia and ridden by Japan’s top jockey Yuga Kawada, Ria Amelia (25-1) was 10th in the Ōka Shō and is 0-for-2 in Grade 1s. Magic Castle (100-1), Woman’s Heart (100-1), Fiori Chiari (150-1) and Chain Of Love (100-1) were drawn into gates 12-15.
Cravache d’Or and Win Marilyn are the most backed mid-pack entries. After riding Loves Only You to victory last year, Mirco Demuro will be aboard Cravache d’Or (8-1) in hopes of becoming the seventh jockey to repeat in the Oaks. Out of a mare by 2000 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Fusaichi Pegasus, Win Marilyn (16-1) is coming off a 1 1/4-mile Grade 2 victory last month at Tokyo.
Two also-rans in the Ōka Shō. Miyamazakura (10-1) and Sanctuaire (16-1), are the stalkers that have attracted the most early betting attention. Both by Deep Impact, they were each Grade 3 winners two races ago. Despite drawing post 18, Sanctuaire is likely attract wagering action because he will be ridden by Christophe Lemaire, who won the last three riding titles in Japan.
Winless in two starts above the Grade 3 class, Smile Kana (28-1) figures to be on or near the early lead. That is where she was in the Ōka Shō before being caught and finishing 3 1/4 lengths behind in third.
Only Lily Pure Heart (50-1), another Deep Impact foal, has gone 1 1/2 miles, doing so in a race for one-time winners over the same course that will be used this weekend. Looked after by 2018 training champion Hideaki Fujiwara, she is a stablemate of Miyamazakura.
The betting favorite has won the last four runnings of the Japanese Oaks, just another part of the script for which Daring Tact seems to be perfectly cast. If she gets the job done Sunday she will be the first undefeated horse to win both the Guineas and the Oaks since Miss Onward in 1957.
She would also be on the verge of becoming the sixth horse to claim the Japanese Fillies’ Triple Crown. It has become a recent ritual, having been won three times in the ’10s, most recently by Almond Eye in 2018.
But no filly has ever been undefeated in sweeping the Guineas, the Oaks and the Shuka Shō, a 1 1/4-mile race in October at Kyoto. What’s more, considering how few in-person witnesses there will be, Daring Tact could complete the quietest Triple Crown sweep anywhere.
Maybe it is just one of those years.
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