Japan's white filly Sodashi could seek 'Sho-time' on world stage for horse racing

August 31st, 2021

Japanese champion racehorse Sodashi has sparked a comparison to Major League Baseball star Shohei Ohtani, according to a recent Yahoo News report in Japan. Just as Ohtani has mad skills as both a pitcher and hitter, Sodashi’s connections want to prove that she is world class on two surfaces — turf and dirt.

While that ambitious goal is for next year, potentially in the Dubai World Cup (G1), Sodashi has another kind of correlation with Ohtani — both are historical rarities. Ohtani’s performance on the mound and at the plate is so extraordinary that Babe Ruth is invoked as a parallel.

Sodashi’s rarity is her color, as a white Thoroughbred. So few white Thoroughbreds exist that they’re known more as novelties, celebrated for their striking looks rather than for racing ability.

But Sodashi is the exception. A record-setting classic winner, she has lost only once in seven starts, all on turf. That makes her a rarity among rarities in the Thoroughbred world — a white horse who wins at the highest level.

Sodashi clinched a championship in the 2020 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies. (Photo by Japan Racing Association)

Sodashi’s races

Sporting the Kaneko Makoto colors made famous by Deep Impact, Sodashi is trained by Naosuke Sugai. She won all four of her starts as a two-year-old.

Her debut in July of 2020 proved a harbinger of her running style. Sodashi prompted the pace in an about 1 1/8-mile newcomers race at Hakodate, before she pulled away on the turn into the stretch.

Up in class for the Sapporo Nisai (G3) at the same distance, Sodashi prevailed in a course-record 1:48.2. Post 13 was no hindrance. She secured position a few lengths off the pace, struck the front on the far turn, and held by a neck from Uberleben. In third was the colt Bathrat Leon, a future Grade 2 winner, and well back in 13th came Pink Kamehameha, who went on to win the Saudi Derby on dirt.

Sodashi wins the 2020 Artemis Stakes (Copyright Japan Racing Association)

Sodashi was again drawn wide again in the Artemis S. (G3) at Tokyo, where she shortened up to a metric mile. Favored in her first fillies-only race, she worked out a stalking trip from post 14 and quickened clear in the stretch.

Her next start, in the Dec. 13 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies (G1) turned out to be a championship-clinching thriller. Sodashi was well placed early, just behind the leaders, but traffic entering the stretch caused some concern for the fan favorite. Then a big seam opened, she burst through, and just lasted, from Satono Reinas and Uberleben.

The unanimous choice for champion two-year-old filly in Japan, Sodashi resumed over the same Hanshin course and distance in the April 11 Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas, G1). The rematch with Satono Reinas produced another nail-biter, in a course-record time of 1:31.1.

Sodashi employed her typical stalking tactics, then made her winning move in the stretch. She displayed her ability to race in proximity to a hot pace and kept finding.

That running style didn’t work when Sodashi tried about 1 1/2 miles in the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks, G1), a race that set up for closers. The distance was a question mark for her on pedigree, and she didn’t relax enough in the initial stage. Although she was more settled in the backstretch, her bid lacked its usual panache. Sodashi tired late to finish eighth in an 18-filly field, behind old rival Uberleben.

Sodashi rebounded against high-class elders in the Aug. 22 Sapporo Kinen (G2), despite a tough trip. Drawn on the far outside, in post 13, she used her tactical speed to attend the leader. But she had to make an earlier move, as Blast Onepiece, a former Japanese champion in his prime, forced her hand. Sodashi responded with a quick burst to take charge, which could have left her vulnerable late. Yet she maintained her gallop to the wire and completed about 1 1/4 miles in 1:59.5.

The Sapporo Kinen runner-up, Loves Only You, is bound for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1). She gives Sodashi some fascinating collateral form. Third to European supremo Mishriff and Japanese star Chrono Genesis in the March 27 Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) on World Cup night, Loves Only You defeated males in the Apr. 25 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1) in Hong Kong.

Plans call for Sodashi to return to her own division for the final fillies classic, the Oct. 17 Shuka Sho (G1).

Sodashi defeats Breeders' Cup-bound Loves Only You in the Sapporo Kinen. (Photo by Tomoya Moriuchi/Horsephotos.com)

Why switch to dirt?

Given her high-profile success on turf, why would Sodashi’s connections entertain the dirt? Her high cruising speed hints that she should be effective on dirt and possibly even better on the surface switch. Her pedigree makes the idea especially attractive.

Sodashi’s sire, Kentucky-bred Kurofune, was a major winner on both surfaces in Japan. But he looked spectacular when he crushed both his starts on dirt in track-record time, including the 2001 Japan Cup Dirt. Kurofune was set for the 2002 Dubai World Cup, with the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) also on the long-range radar. Unfortunately, injury forced Kurofune into retirement before he had the chance to test his mettle on the international stage.

Sodashi’s dam, Buchiko, was a cult favorite during her racing career, because of her unique coloring — white with generous dollops of bay spots. A notoriously mercurial character, Buchiko had her issues at the gate, but still won four times on dirt. Sodashi can have her gate moments too, but to the same dramatic, self-sabotaging degree as her dam.

Buchiko transmits the white coat from her dam, Shirayukihime, whose name is literally “Snow White” in Japanese. Shirayukihime presents a stark color contrast from her sire, 1989 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Sunday Silence, who was nearly black.

Shirayukihime has been an influence for the rare white gene, as well as dirt proficiency. Her best foal, Yukichan, scored on both surfaces, but her three stakes wins all came on dirt. Yukichan is also by Kurofune. Yukichan’s full sister, Marshmallow, is the dam of Hayayakko, a Grade 3 winner on dirt.

If Sodashi can live up to those pedigree pointers and transfer her game to dirt, she might be able to pursue the unfinished business left by her sire, Kurofune. A big win on the international stage would boost her identification with Ohtani, as an exceptionally versatile athlete.