Sunday’s Hyacinth Stakes at Tokyo will determine which three-year-old becomes the first ever to secure a Kentucky Derby (G1) berth in Japan.
Mont Saint Legame, the winner of Japan’s first scoring race in the November 26 Cattleya Sho, is the pro tem leader with 40 points on this separate “Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby.” But the all-conquering Epicharis cuts quite an imposing figure, and royally bred Foggy Night likewise has the right profile. With the Hyacinth’s point structure being 50-20-10-5, Mont Saint Legame needs another good performance in this second and final Japanese scoring race to book his Derby ticket.
Trained by Koji Maki, Mont Saint Legame is unbeaten from two starts, both over this metric mile at Tokyo. The Came Home colt stepped up from a newcomers’ race to beat Sheik Mohammed’s Caucus in the Cattleya Sho. Caucus, who earned 16 Derby points there, has been unplaced twice in the interim, while Mont Saint Legame enters fresh off the nearly three-month holiday.
Epicharis rates as the likely favorite after demolition jobs in all three of his outings last season. Unraced since he aired in the November 1 Hokkaido Nisai Yushun at Monbetsu – by a margin so large it was marked down as “a distance” – the Gold Allure colt is using this as a springboard to an international campaign. Trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara has long planned an assault on the March 25 U.A.E. Derby (G2), and down the road, reportedly he’s aiming for the Belmont S. (G1).
Foggy Night will be facing winners for the first time after a taking display versus fellow firsters on November 12. Yet as a son of Tapit and multiple Grade 1 winner Champagne d’Oro, who hails from the barn of Noriyuki Hori, he warrants considerable respect. And Foggy Night has done enough to keep all-world ace Ryan Moore in the saddle.
Naosuke Sugai is not to be overlooked with Adirato. Although winless on the turf, Adirato’s been a different proposition on the dirt. He ran off the screen in an about seven-furlong maiden in record time at Hanshin, albeit in the slop, and followed up over the same trip at Chukyo. It’s not that much of a stretch-out to Tokyo’s one-turn mile, and he gets Yutaka Take, aboard for his maiden romp, back at the helm.
All five are U.S. Triple Crown nominees, and with Mont Saint Legame reportedly added to the U.A.E. Derby list, they’re also engaged at Meydan on World Cup night.
Although the other 10 entrants in the 15-horse field aren’t Triple Crown-nominated, there are some useful types who can factor here.
Bullbear Baboon set a juvenile track record for about nine furlongs at Kyoto two back, albeit in a tight finish. If you forgive his last-place effort in the nation’s championship race in his division, the Asahi Hai Futurity (G1) on turf, he’s capable of doing better back on the dirt.
Liverdy has a resume similar to Mont Saint Legame’s, in that he’s perfect from two starts at this track and trip. Hypernova, just denied on debut, has since won two straight. Yet the first-crop son of I’ll Have Another has kept to about 1 1/8 miles so far, and he faces a simultaneous class hike and cutback in trip here.
Shigeru Kong edged fellow Morinaka colorbearer Shigeru Bengaltora in a course-and-distance allowance back on November 12. Subsequently second to highly regarded filly Rieno Tesoro in the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun at Kawasaki, a Grade 1 on the local NAR circuit, Shigeru Kong will try to pay her a compliment back at JRA level here. Shigeru Bengaltora also fared well in his ensuing start, taking a Chukyo allowance over Matera Sky (whose U.A.E. Derby nomination appears ambitious at this point). Note that Matera Sky gets a rider switch to the accomplished veteran Masayoshi Ebina; maybe Ebina can get a tune out of the hit-or-miss type.
There is one filly in the Hyacinth, Stapes Maria, who’s won both of her dirt starts in sprints. But the daughter of Pyro is picking a tough spot to jump from about six furlongs to a mile. Last-out Nakayama allowance winner Goodhumour is another stepping up from sprints.
Although the consistent Captain King comes off an allowance score going about seven furlongs at this track, he’s looking a little exposed after seven starts. Copano Mizaru looks up against it after a ninth in his unveiling on turf.
Here is the field with post positions (screenshot excerpted from japanracing.jp):
The Hyacinth is attracting more attention for its role on the Japan Road to the Derby, but the feature on the card is the February (G1) over the same distance.
The February was added to the Breeders’ Cup Challenge schedule last year as a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). Prime players include last year’s Hyacinth and Unicorn (G3) hero Gold Dream; Kafuji Take, who turned in a fantastic rally in the Negishi (G3) last out; defending February champion Moanin; last year’s placegetters Nonkono Yume and Asukano Roman; Copano Rickey, the February hero of 2014-15, who hopes to make history as the first three-time winner; Champions Cup (G1) victor Sound True; Best Warrior, who’s enduring a bout of seconditis at present; and two-time JBC Ladies’ Classic queen White Fugue. Classy turf mare Denim and Ruby, best known for her near-miss to Gentildonna in the 2013 Japan Cup (G1), is in the twilight of her career – and an unknown quantity on the dirt.
The February field as excerpted from japanracing.jp:
Post time for the February is 1:40 a.m. (EST), with the Hyacinth two races prior at 12:25 a.m. (EST).