Who is Contrail and why is his Japanese Triple Crown bid historic?

As the unbeaten star of the first two jewels of Japan’s Triple Crown, Contrail is rightly a hot favorite to complete the sweep in Sunday’s Kikuka Sho (Japanese St Leger) (G1) at Kyoto.

Yet much more is at stake than just becoming an eighth Japanese Triple Crown winner: Contrail is poised to make history not only for himself, but also for sire Deep Impact, and he has the panache to go global in 2021.

Deep Impact wins the 2006 Arima Kinen
Deep Impact winning the Arima Kinen
(Japan Racing Association)

Deep Impact-Contrail would be the first father-son Triple Crown winners

The late, great Deep Impact has already lived up to his name both on the racecourse and at stud, and Contrail can gild his legacy. Deep Impact was himself an unbeaten Triple Crown winner in Japan (2005), a distinction shared only by Symboli Rudolf (1984). But Deep Impact would be unique in Japanese racing history if he also sires a Triple Crown winner. Greater still is the fact that Contrail would emulate his perfect record through the classics.

Contrail’s essential characteristic

Favored in all six starts so far, Contrail has displayed a rare quality: he improves position while still on cruise control.

Although generally held up off the pace, his ability to travel on the bridle has given jockey Yuichi Fukunaga the option of placing him as needed. Contrail lay a bit closer, for example, in the May 24 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) (G1) at Tokyo than he did in the first jewel, the Apr. 19 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) (G1).

A clue to the merit of Contrail’s form: Salios

Whenever one sophomore lords it over the rest, the instinctive question is whether he’s just the best of an indifferent bunch. But the runner-up in the first two classics, Salios, offers a persuasive rebuttal.

The winner of all four starts away from Contrail, Salios was a top juvenile who captured historically the championship race in the division, the 2019 Asahi Hai Futurity (G1). The only reason he wasn’t voted champion?

Contrail was so impressive when romping in the Nov. 16 Tokyo Sports Hai Nisai (G3) in record time, and capping his season in the Dec. 28 Hopeful (G1), that he led the electorate to break with custom and award him the 2-year-old colt’s title.

Salios opted to cut back in trip from the Derby rather than try Contrail again here over further, a sensible plan since he’d excelled at a mile last season. It’s already paid dividends as Salios beat older horses in the about 1 1/8-mile Mainichi Okan (G2), and a return to Group 1 company is next. In an ordinary year, Salios would be the divisional celebrity – such is the raw talent of Contrail.

Official ratings put Contrail well ahead of Kikuka Sho rivals

Thus without the second-best 3-year-old colt in the mix, Contrail has an even bigger class advantage over the other prospective Kikuka Sho entrants. Aside from his re-opposing rivals having to figure out a way to bridge the gap, most of the classic newcomers have yet to establish graded credentials.

According to japanracing.jp, Contrail’s current rating of 122 puts him eight pounds clear of Satono Impresa and Weltreisende, both of whom he’s dispatched already, with the rest lower than their mark of 114.

Of those Contrail has yet to meet, Babbitt brings the best rating of 112 from his victory in a prep, the St. Lite Kinen (G2). Although upwardly mobile types can’t be dismissed, he beat a couple of horses that Contrail has dismissed readily – Satono Flag and Galore Creek – suggesting that the favorite is likely to have his measure as well.

This analysis might be different if there were a compelling reason to suspect Contrail on the step up to about 1 7/8 miles in the Kikuka Sho. But judging by his relaxed style, his habit of looking stronger the farther he goes, and his manner of winning in hand, distance should be no obstacle. While desperately soft going would be an unknown variable, that hypothetical is unlikely. Rain is in the Kyoto forecast in the latter part of this week, followed by clear conditions over the weekend, and the turf figures to be at least good – which he’s handled before.

It’s a truism that anything can happen in racing, but Contrail looks to have the Triple Crown at his mercy. Watch how he hacks up in the key prep, the Sept. 27 Kobe Shimbun Hai (G2):

A “double” Triple Crown, Japan Cup showdown, and Arc?

This past Sunday, Daring Tact became the sixth to sweep Japan’s classics for fillies, but the first to do so unbeaten. The five previous Fillies’ Triple Crown winners did not coincide with the Triple Crown-winning colts, so if Contrail lives up to billing Sunday, racing fans can celebrate an unprecedented “double sweep.”

RELATED: Daring Tact becomes first to capture Japan’s Fillies’ Triple Crown unbeaten

The next step for both is tackling elders. Contrail is reportedly expected to try the Nov. 29 Japan Cup (G1), which is also a possibility for Daring Tact.

Further down the road, Contrail is likely to have international ambitions, especially since trainer Yoshito Yahagi has had success abroad with Lys Gracieux and Real Steel. The past two colts to wear the crown – sire Deep Impact and Orfevre (2011) – both ventured to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), so perhaps Contrail has Paris in his datebook for fall 2021.

Might he be the one to win an elusive Arc for Japan?