JRA weekend preview: Jan. 23-24

Decipher, via Flickr (masaminh)

TOKYO (TR) – Highlighting this week’s Japan Racing Association action is the pairing of Deep Impact progenies in the G2 American Jockey Club Cup on Sunday.

American Jockey Club Cup (G2)

At Nakayama Racecourse 7-year-old Decipher and 4-year-old Satono Rasen will compete for about half of the 1.2-million-dollar purse in the 2,200-meter American Jockey Club Cup. Early odds have the two contenders sharing the favorite status at 4.0 with Meiner Frost, who finished second in the G3 Nakayama Kimpai on January 5th, close behind at 4.3.

Decipher, the top total and 2015 money earner on the field, raced in seven graded races in 2015 for a record of 2-2-1-2. In his last race he came in second to Mitra in the 2,000-meter G2 Kinko Sho on December 5. Satono Rasen’s 2015 earnings are just behind Decipher’s at 174,451,000 yen and has four graded races for 3-year-olds under his belt for a record of 1-1-0-2. In his last race he came in fifth in the Kikuka Sho in October.

Satono Rasen, who will be taken out by Francis Berry, is the lone 4-year-old in the field of 16. The last 4-year-old to win the American Jockey Club Cup was Matsurida Gogh in 2007.

The race went to 6-year-old Courir Kaiser by King Halo in 2015, and this year’s repeaters (2015 finish) are Meiner Frost (4th), Decipher (5th), Fragarach (6th), Meiner Dean (13th), and Meiner Medalist (14th).

The head-scratcher on the field is 5-year-old Yamanin Voielactee by King Kamahameha. The gelding, trained by the current top trainer Mikio Matsunaga, is a stakes race income generator for owner Hajime Doi with a 2015-16 record of 3-3-2 out of 11 races. This is Yamanin Voielactee’s debut in a graded race — the cherry in the lot — and it is delightfully suspicious.

Decipher’s record is impressive, but so was the 2015 favorite, Gold Ship, who finished 7th.

Tokai TV Hai Tokai Stakes (G2)

The first graded dirt race of the year, the Tokai TV Tokai Stakes, will be held on Sunday at Chukyo Racecourse in Nagoya. Twelve horses are competing in the 1900-meter race for shares of the nearly 1-million-dollar purse. 2015 winner Copano Rickey and 2013 winner Grape Brandy both followed up their victories by winning the G1 February Stakes, one of the top graded dirt events of the year.

Early odds has 5-year-old Rio Jardin by King Kamehameha as the strong favorite at 2.3. Rio Jardin closed out the year by winning the G3 Miyako Stakes in November and then finishing a strong fourth in the G1 Champions Cup in December.

Coming off an 8-month layoff, and second on the tote-board is G3 Heian Stakes winner Incantation by Sinister Minister. The 6-year-old finished second in the 2015 February Stakes three-quarters of a length behind Copano Rickey.

The third favorite at 5.8 is Roman Legend by Special Week. The 8-year-old did not fare well in the Champions Cup finishing 14th, but ran respectable races for third place in both the Miyako Stakes and the Heian Stakes.

5-year-old Monde Classe by Agnes Digital is the likely candidate to bust up this 3-horse race. After three straight stakes wins that started in August, Monde Classe had to settle for seventh in the Miyako Stakes, his graded race debut.

While two of the last three Tokai Stakes were won by favorites, and all three by large margins, expect a fast, tight race with the contenders holding their positions wire-to-wire, up front well into the stretch.