Preakness Stakes international scouting report: France Go de Ina
The Japanese shipper in the Preakness S. (G1), France Go de Ina, embodies the international dimension of Thoroughbred racing. He is a Kentucky-bred, with a European country in his name, who is based in Japan but last raced in Dubai.
France Go de Ina is only the second Japanese-trained runner to try the Preakness, after Lani finished fifth in 2016. While Lani brought some credentials, as the UAE Derby (G2) winner and ninth-placer in the Kentucky Derby (G1), France Go de Ina relies more on untapped potential.
Bred to improve with maturity, France Go de Ina is by Will Take Charge, who clinched champion three-year-old male honors with a late-season charge in 2013. The son of Unbridled’s Song and multiple Grade 1 victress Take Charge Lady was unplaced in all three jewels of the Triple Crown, but reached his peak in late summer and fall. Will Take Charge captured the Travers (G1), Pennsylvania Derby (G2), and Clark H. (G1), and missed by a nose in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
France Go de Ina’s dam, Dreamy Blues, is by Curlin, the 2007 Preakness winner who also took the Breeders’ Cup Classic and 2008 Dubai World Cup (G1) during his Hall of Fame career. Dreamy Blues is a half-sibling to Grade 2-winning sprinter Shawklit Mint, and their dam is by 1992 Preakness victor Pine Bluff. This is the family of tough veteran Crafty Shaw, a millionaire with 44 starts, as well as turf millionaire Money Multiplier and 2014 Risen Star (G2) victor Intense Holiday.
Purchased by trainer Hideyuki Mori for $100,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale, he sports the colors of Yuji Inaida.
Trainer Mori’s global vision
Mori pioneered Japan’s attempt at the Kentucky Derby, when he sent out Ski Captain to finish 14th in 1995. He was more successful taking European prizes on turf, with Seeking the Pearl, victorious in the 1998 Prix Maurice de Gheest (G1), and Agnes World, winner of the 1999 Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp (G1) and 2000 July Cup (G1).
In recent years, Mori has continued to seek majors on dirt. His stable star Matera Sky has been nipped in the past two runnings of the Riyadh Dirt Sprint on Saudi Cup Day, and he also finished second in the 2019 Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1). Full Flat appeared out of his depth in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), but ran a creditable fifth, and later upset the inaugural Saudi Derby.
Among Mori’s top performers at home are 1993 Japan Cup hero Legacy World (famous for toppling U.S. Horse of the Year Kotashaan), as well as Japanese classic winners Air Shakur and Captain Thule.
France Go de Ina started out with a better-than-appears fourth in a newcomers’ race at Tokyo won by Godolphin’s Lemon Pop. In that about 6 1/2-furlong dash Nov. 7, France Go de Ina broke slowly from the far outside post 14. Although the 6-1 chance had the speed to improve position, and ranged into contention widest turning for home, France Go de Ina flattened out down the stretch. It’s worth wondering how much closer he might have finished with a better trip.
Triple Crown-nominated Lemon Pop went on to take the Nov. 28 Cattleya S., the first scoring contest on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby, but he has not raced since.
France Go de Ina figured to appreciate the step up in trip to about 1 1/8 miles at Hanshin, where he was able to use his tactical speed effectively. With new rider Yuichi Fukunaga aboard, he got off to a better start in this Nov. 28 maiden event. The 3-1 shot was drawn in post 10, but beat his inside pace rivals to the lead and dictated the rest of the way. Watch how the runner-up, Emerging Role, tries to take a run at him, only to see France Go de Ina pull clear in hand by four lengths.
The even-money favorite back at the same track and trip for a Dec. 19 allowance, France Go de Ina broke well on the rail but another took the lead in the initial strides (full video here). He was content to race in a tracking second, then swung into the homestretch, where he surged past the pacesetter in a five-length romp.
Middle East ventures
It’s easy to critique the bare form of his Hanshin wins, accomplished in 1:53.9 (maiden) and 1:53.6 (allowance), as both race shapes favored on-the-pace types. At the same time, Mori’s international ambitions hinted that more was still to come.
France Go de Ina was earmarked for the Feb. 20 Saudi Derby on the lucrative Saudi Cup card, but he spiked a fever and did not make the trip. Mori still won the race, with a less-accomplished stablemate, Pink Kamehameha. His upset victory over tough-luck American shipper Cowan, John Gosden’s New Treasure, and Godolphin Triple Crown nominee Rebel’s Romance flattered France Go de Ina, who had a stronger résumé than Pink Kamehameha.
France Go de Ina was ready for a Middle East venture by the time of the March 27 UAE Derby on Dubai World Cup night, and he picked up the services of jockey Joel Rosario. Whether through inexperience on the big stage or just rustiness off the three-month layoff, he repeated his old rookie mistake of breaking a beat slow. France Go de Ina found himself immediately shuffled back to last of 14. He never got to use his early speed to secure any kind of position, but to his credit, he stayed on for sixth, behind the rebounding Rebel’s Romance. And France Go de Ina finished 9 1/2 lengths ahead of 10th-place finisher Pink Kamehameha.
France Go de Ina must step up on what he’s shown so far, not only from a class perspective, but in view of the race dynamic, as well. He’s a forwardly placed type thrown in against frontrunning Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit, fellow speed Concert Tour from the same Bob Baffert barn, and Steve Asmussen’s Midnight Bourbon, who should be engaged from the start this time.
How does France Go de Ina work out a trip in that scenario? Chances are he'll be outpaced early and stay on. Such an effort could bring him on for another goal.
Stepping stone to Belmont?
Had France Go de Ina made it to his intended Saudi comeback, perhaps he would have been sharper in the UAE Derby. Not that he would have contained the rampant Rebel’s Romance, but he likely would have cast himself in a better light. With his preferred forward trip, France Go de Ina might have fought for a minor award, and enough points to enter the Kentucky Derby starting gate.
If we continue along that counterfactual line, even an unplaced run at Churchill Downs would have set him up for the Belmont S. (G1). That’s the jewel to suit his galloping style best, not to mention the $1 million bonus that NYRA is offering to a Japanese-based sophomore who wins the Belmont.
France Go de Ina’s Preakness bid could end up serving that end, and prepare him for a projected rematch with Rebel’s Romance in the Belmont. Lani improved in each Triple Crown jewel, as he progressed from a ninth in the Derby, to a fifth at Pimlico, and finally third in the Belmont.
The most recent Triple Crown participant from Japan, Master Fencer in 2019, crossed the wire a fast-finishing seventh in the Derby (promoted to sixth upon the disqualification of Maximum Security), and he was a slightly nearer fifth in the Belmont. Recall that Master Fencer was a bit below the best Japanese dirt sophomores that year, yet he still acquitted himself respectably.
A question mark
Unlike Master Fencer, whose divisional ranking was plain, from his efforts in defeat on the Japan Road, France Go de Ina poses more of a question mark. He has yet to try stakes company at home in Japan, so we don’t even know how he’d stack up against Hyacinth winner La Perouse. His UAE Derby trip doesn’t give a clear answer.
To accentuate the positive, France Go de Ina’s pedigree suggests upside, Mori’s faith in him can’t be discounted, Rosario will ride him back, and he arrives in an open-looking year. Still, we’d prefer firmer motives of credibility.