Preview for the 2020 Satsuki Shō

April 15th, 2020

By Ron Flatter

Satsuki Sho Trends for betting

  • Win your last prep.
  • Make sure it is a graded stakes.
  • And don’t be worn out from too many races.

It is a template that fits eight of the last nine winners of the Kentucky Derby. The same pattern applies to the first jewel of Japan’s Triple Crown.

And what do you know? An undefeated, lightly raced, graded winner is the early betting favorite for this weekend’s $2.2 million Satsuki Shō (G1), often called the Japanese 2,000 Guineas.

Contrail (3-2 odds) certainly looks the part of the favorite for a classic. Sired by the late, great Deep Impact out of an Unbridled’s Song mare, this pace stalker is 3-for-3 coming into his 3-year-old debut. He left his most recent impression nearly four months ago with a 11/2-length victory in the Hopeful Stakes (G1) over 1¼ miles of firm turf at Nakayama, the same course and distance as the Satsuki Shō on Sunday at 2:40 a.m. EDT.

“I didn’t have to do anything but sit on him,” his jockey Yuichi Fukunaga said at the time. “He really changed his gear effortlessly, but he was a little lost once he took the lead. No wonder Ryan (Moore) drove him the way he did in his last run.”

Oh, yes. The four-time English champion jockey Ryan Moore has also ridden Contrail. That was to a Grade 3 victory in November at Tokyo. But Fukunaga will be riding Sunday. And like trainer Yoshito Yahagi, he is looking for his first win in the race that will be followed by the 1½-mile Tokyo Yūshun (G1) on May 30 and the 1⅞-mile Kikuka Shō (G1) on October 25 to complete Japan’s Triple Crown.

There are at least two others in the field that fit the pattern of Satsuki Shō success. Namely that nine of the last 11 winners finished first in their final prep. That the 12 most recent winners last prepped in a graded stakes. And that the last six had no more than five races beforehand.

Salios (3-1) is also 3-for-3, mostly recently with Moore riding him to a December win in the Asahi Hai Futurity (G1) over a firm mile at Hanshin. A stalker by Heart’s Cry, he was actually rated a pound better than Contrail at the end of last year. Trained by 2015 Satsuki Shō winner Noriyuki Hori, the big question is whether he can go the extra quarter-mile for the first time, especially since the homestretch is slightly uphill.

“He showed last time what he’s capable of,” Hori said. “At the final turn he was still able to circle the other runners and get to the lead, and he knew what to do from that point on.”

After a sixth-place debut in October, the closer Satono Flag (7-2) has won his three races since, including a Grade 2 last month over the Satsuki Shō course and distance. That victory by this Deep Impact colt was on yielding turf. That is especially noteworthy, since a wet Saturday could leave Nakayama something short of firm for the Satsuki Shō.

“It was the highest level race last time,” Satono Flag’s trainer Sakae Kunieda said. “He certainly did well. I can have no complaints about the horse considering his record-time (maiden) win and his ability to handle soft ground.”

Last year’s winning jockey Christophe Lemaire has the ride.

Aside from Contrail and Salios, there are three other undefeated starters – 2-for-2 Grade 3 winner Crystal Black (12-1), 3-for-3 black-type victor L’Excellence (25-1) and 1-for-1 maiden winner Tempin (66-1). But a perfect record has been a crucible in the Satsuki Shō. Saturnalia’s breakthrough last year marked the first time since Deep Impact in 2005 that a horse left the race with its undefeated record in tact.

This classic has also been anything but chalky lately. Saturnalia was only the third favorite to win in the last 14 runnings. It is also no easy task to keep Triple Crown hopes alive for very long in Japan. Since Orfèvre won it in 2011, only Duramente in 2015 has been able to claim even the first two legs.

So is Contrail the one to alter recent history? His connections have certainly had it in mind for a while.

“Hopefully all will go well,” assistant trainer Yusaku Oka said before last December’s Hopeful victory. “We’re looking ahead to next year’s classic races with him.”

“Next year” arrives this weekend.