Amid the anniversary of Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, another rivalry blooms in Contrail and Salios Sunday at 2:40am ET.
It happened with their grandsire 31 years ago, a quarter of a world away in the mud of Kentucky. That was when one of racing’s great rivalries was born.
Six weeks after Contrail extended himself to a half-length victory over Salios in the Japanese 2,000 Guineas (G1) at Hanshin, they meet again this weekend 300 miles east at Tokyo Racecourse.
That is where they figure to be the clear betting favorites for the 87th Japanese Derby (G1), a.k.a. the $4 million Tokyo Yūshun on Sunday at 2:40 a.m. ET.
Contrail (8-13) is already odds-on in early overseas wagering and has been favored in every race he has started, winning all four. But he was never pushed the way that he was when he found himself in a duel to the finish last month against Salios.
“I had every confidence in him entering the stretch,” his jockey Yuichi Fukunaga said right after the Guineas, known in Japan as the Satsuki Shō. “He was so powerful that I thought we might pull away. But Salios didn’t let us win so easily.”
Coming into last month’s race 3-for-3, Salios (3-1) stalked the pace and got a clean first run turning into the stretch. He found the lead with right-handed urging from Australian jockey Damian Lane, who had isolated himself in strict quarantine for two weeks just so he could ride the Heart’s Cry chestnut in the Guineas.
But bearing down just outside him was Contrail, looking just a little longer and certainly 163 pounds leaner as the scale showed before the race. The brown colt by Deep Impact out of an Unbridled’s Song mare dug deep and earned the victory. Really earned it. And really validated the vote last winter that made him the 2-year-old champion colt in Japan. It was Contrail 197, Salios 77.
If styles make races, though, the advantage could swing to Salios, a colt whose off-the-pace, tactical speed might be more suited to this weekend’s 1 1/2 miles than it was to last month’s 1 1/4 miles. Six of the last 10 Derby winners were never better than seventh before turning into the stretch.
“He knows when to switch on and off,” said Yuki Uehara, assistant to Salios’s trainer Noriyuki Hori.
Salios might get his revenge
If he can put tactical speed to his size advantage, then Salios might get his revenge. But he might need to find something very basic. More horsepower. That is something that Contrail clearly had last month at Hanshin.
“He won strongly,” Fukunaga said. “Winning the way he did I am confident that he will handle the distance in the coming Derby.”
Not to forget, there will be more than just two horses in Sunday’s race.
Satono Flag (12-1) will try to show that his three-race winning streak before last month was more in keeping with his form than his flat, fifth-place finish disappointment as a 5-2 second choice in the Guineas. Wakea (20-1) was second to Satono Flag his last time out in March in a Grade 2 race at Nakayama. Galore Creek (25-1) was third to Contrail in the Guineas.
Among the Derby nominees with American ties, the deep closing Al Jannah (33-1) is a maiden winner out of a Tiz Wonderful dam and will be in a field twice as large as he is used to seeing. Bitterender (80-1) is out of an Afleet Alex mare and figures to bring early speed. Another potential pacesetter, Danon Pharaoh (200-1) is a two-time-winning American Pharoah colt that needs some defections ahead of him to get into the race.
If Contrail wins this weekend he will be the first to achieve the Guineas-Derby double since Duramente in 2015. And then the wait will begin, since Japan’s Triple Crown – last won by Orfèvre in 2011 – will not get done until the 1 7/8-mile Kikuka Shō (G1) in October.
By then maybe Salios will be to Contrail what Easy Goer was to their granddad.