JRA weekend preview: Jan. 9-11

TOKYO (TR) – The Japan Racing Association kicked off its 2016 racing year on Wednesday with two G3 turf events for 4-year-olds and up. Here are some highlights and a rundown of the action coming up this weekend.

In Kyoto, 6-year-old Win Primera by Stay Gold ran the 1,600-meter Sports Nippon Sho Kyoto Kimpai in 1:33.0 to collect 41.6 million yen of the 78.1-million-yen purse.

Meanwhile, 4-year-old Yamakatsu Ace by King Kamehameha beat out favorite Fluky to win the 2,000-meter Nikkan Sports Sho Nakayama Kimpai at Nakayama Racecourse. Yamakatsu Ace had a stellar 2015 with three wins and earnings of 131,905,000 yen. Wednesday’s earnings of 41,525,000 yen bring the colt’s total earnings to 184,524,000 yen.

Graded races aside, Wednesday’s show was stolen by Buchiko in the 8th at the Kyoto Racecourse where she beat the field by 1.7 seconds. The 4-year-old filly by King Kamehameha appears to have been bred on a drawing board at Disneyland, and has a fan base rivaling any one of Japan’s pop idols. Buchiko, out of Shirayukihime, a pure white daughter of Sunday Silence, has three wins out of 11 starts, and while some opine she has more cuteness than heart, she just turned four and the jury is still out. (Video: Buchiko in 8th race at Kyoto on Jan. 5)

Monday’s national holiday, Coming of Age Day, celebrates all those who reached the age of 20 over the past year. Appropriately, we have a three-day racing weekend, but we’re celebrating 3-year-olds with two 1,600-meter G3 turf races.

Graded Races

On January 10, the Nikkan Sports Sho Shinzan Kinen (G3) for 3-year-olds will be held at Kyoto Racecourse. Racing fans often look to the first graded race of the year for 3-year-olds for signs of the next Triple Crown winner, but it’s early. For every Gentildonna (2012 winner) there’s an Asian Top (2013 winner) that goes nowhere. 2014 winner Mikki Isle has wowed us, 2015 winner Guanciale has yet to win another race.

Several in the field are contenders for the 38-million-yen winner’s purse. Mirco Demuro will take out second time starter Jeweler, and possible favorite Astra Emblem, who finished the last 600 meters of the Saudi Arabia Royal Cup in 33 seconds for third place, will be ridden by Christophe Lemaire.

Nakayama Racecourse will host the Fairy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies on January 11. Like the Shizan Kinen, the Fairy Stakes has had its share of one-hit wonders. Locals fill out the card in this international race with a 66-million-yen purse. Check out who has won the Fairy Stakes over the past six years:

2015 – Not Formal – 11th ranked
2014 – Omega Heart Rock – favorite (2nd place Nishino Akatsuki – 10th ranked)
2013 – Crown Rose – 10th ranked
2012 – Tosen Benizakura – 3rd ranked (2nd place Meine Epona – 14th ranked)
2011 – Dance Fantasia – favorite
2010 – Cosmo Nemo Shin – 11th ranked

Feeling the urge to go wild and exotic? This is the race to do it in. I’ll be watching Canada-based Mexican jockey Luis Contreras, who started his second short term stint in Japan on Wednesday, and has yet to be given a horse he can win on.

Stakes Races

Besides the Shinzan Kinen, Kyoto is also holding eight stakes races over the weekend including the Rashomon Stakes on Saturday, and the Yamato Stakes on Monday, both 1400 meter dirt races. The Yamato Stakes should prove exciting as the field includes 4-year-old colts Susan Joy and American bred T O Helios, both 3-0 in their last three races.

Tokyo Style