Shahryar, Grenadier Guards fly flag for Japan at 2022 Royal Ascot

June 12th, 2022

Like Japan’s pursuit of the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), a Royal Ascot win has proven elusive for the racing powerhouse. While Japanese runners have gone close a few times in the Arc, they haven’t managed to make an impact at the premier British summer festival.

But that could be about to change. Shahryar has the credentials to amend Japan’s record in the June 15 Prince of Wales’s (G1), and Grenadier Guards is a more speculative chance in the Platinum Jubilee (G1) on June 18, the final day of the Royal meeting.

Both are Northern Farm-breds who sport the Sunday Racing colors. Both are by all-time greats and out of winners of the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1). Shahryar’s parents are Deep Impact and champion Dubai Majesty. Grenadier Guards is a son of Frankel and Wavell Avenue.

Shahryar is trained by veteran horseman Hideaki Fujiwara, and Grenadier Guards represents up-and-coming Mitsumasa Nakauchida, the top trainer by wins at Japan Racing Association tracks in 2021. Nakauchida has global experience, having worked in Europe as well as stateside for the late Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel.

Shahryar - Prince of Wales’s (G1), Wednesday, June 15

Three Japanese shippers have attempted this 1 1/4-mile prize, and all wound up sixth – Spielberg (2015), A Shin Hikari (2016), and Deirdre (2019).

A Shin Hikari was the biggest disappointment, not only because he faded to last as the odds-on favorite, but because he was coming off big scores on the world stage. After the 2015 Hong Kong Cup (G1) and a 10-length tour de force in the Prix d’Ispahan (G1) in his European debut, A Shin Hikari appeared to have the prerequisites for success here, including soft-ground prowess. In contrast, Spielberg went off at 7-1, and Deirdre was a 33-1 shot with back class but less compelling recent form.

Shahryar boasts a resume superior to them all, with the attractive combination of victories in a Japanese classic as well as in a major race abroad.

Unlike A Shin Hikari, who was unplaced in both of his Grade 1 tries at home in Japan, Shahryar is the record-setting winner of the 2021 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) (G1). Just when favored Efforia struck the front and looked set for glory, Shahryar speared through to edge him at the wire in a stakes-record 2:22.5 in the about 1 1/2-mile Tokyo classic. That was the only loss of Efforia’s otherwise flawless campaign as the Japanese Horse of the Year.

Shahryar transferred his game to Meydan last time out in the March 26 Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) on World Cup night. Forwardly placed through a slow pace, he accelerated to win in 2:26.88, nearly equaling the about 1 1/2-mile track mark (2:26.65) held by Prince of Wales’s rival Mishriff. Shahryar was turning the tables on the older Authority, who’d finished ahead of him when they were second and third, respectively, to Contrail in the Japan Cup (G1).

Rallying for second in the Sheema was reigning Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) champ Yibir. Further back were Alenquer and Hukum, next-out winners of the Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1) and Coronation Cup (G1), respectively.

Now a prominent contender for the Arc, Shahryar does have a couple of potential concerns in the Prince of Wales’s. The first is the ground, since the evidence suggests he needs it fairly quick. All of his wins have come on firm in Japan, and the Sheema was on good going, achieved by watering in Dubai. Shahryar failed to fire in his lone start on soft, finishing fourth in last fall’s Kobe Shimbun Hai (G2) – the only time he’s been out of the trifecta.

The other is the cutback in distance to 1 1/4 miles, around the contours of Ascot. Shahryar could take that in stride, although the prospect of no pace would pose a complication. For whatever it’s worth, he had the gears to win an about 1 1/8-mile classic trial last year, the Mainichi Hai (G3), in a record 1:43.9 at right-handed Hanshin. Of course, he was a spring three-year-old then, and this is a different kind of test for the year-older colt.

Still, if the weather cooperates, Shahryar’s form makes him a prime threat to win. At a minimum, he’s entitled to end the shut-out of Japan in the placings.

Grenadier Guards – Platinum Jubilee (G1), Saturday, June 18

Grenadier Guards brings a lower profile as he takes on the might of America (Campanelle) and Australia (Home Affairs and Artorius), nations better known for their sprinting prowess than Japan. Yet he has alluring collateral form at a metric mile, as an erstwhile Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) hope, and a stiff six furlongs down the straightaway here could suit him well.

As a juvenile in 2020, Grenadier Guards captured the about one-mile Asahi Hai Futurity (G1) in a record 1:32.3 at Hanshin. He pounced on the runaway pacesetter and dug in to hold Stella Veloce, who would go on to place third in the first two jewels of the 2021 Japanese Triple Crown. The fourth in the Asahi Hai, Bathrat Leon, would become famous for shocking the Godolphin Mile (G2) on the Dubai World Cup undercard.

Grenadier Guards didn’t try to stretch out for the classics, instead pointing for the NHK Mile Cup (G1) as his spring goal at three. He shortened up to about seven furlongs for his prep in the Chunichi Sports Sho Falcon (G3) at left-handed Chukyo, where he just missed on the head bob. Favored in the NHK Mile Cup, Grenadier Guards traveled well and made a smart move into the Tokyo stretch, but got outfinished by Schnell Meister and Songline in 1:32.5. Songline has since defeated males in the 1351 Turf Sprint (G3) on Saudi Cup Day and just bested Schnell Meister in the June 5 Yasuda Kinen (G1).

Planning to contest last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Mile, Grenadier Guards ended up not making the trip after a third in his prep. He eventually regained the winning thread on the cutback in the about seven-furlong Hanshin Cup (G2) on Christmas Day. Biding his time well back early, he spun wide into the stretch and uncorked a whirlwind rally to win handsomely in 1:20.3.

Grenadier Guards experimented by shortening up another furlong for the March 27 Takamatsunomiya Kinen (G1) back at Chukyo. The combination of rain-softened ground, the shorter trip around a left-handed circuit, and post 18 resulted in a non-threatening 12th, although he did try to rally out wide. Longshots swept the superfecta, implying that the form isn't worth taking too literally.

Considering his robust finish upon straightening in the Hanshin Cup, Grenadier Guards could be happy to skip a turn altogether here. And if seven furlongs is his optimal trip at home now, a strong-run six at Ascot could play similarly to his strengths. If so, he’s flying under the radar as an intriguing contender.