JRA weekend preview: Feb. 20-21

TOKTO (TR) – The Japan Racing Association is holding it’s first G-fest of the year: Three tracks across Japan will host three G3 races and the G1 February Stakes over Saturday and Sunday.

February Stakes G1

The main event on Sunday at Tokyo Racecourse, the 1,600-meter dirt February Stakes, comes with some added drama as the race’s 2014 and 2015 winner, Copano Rickey, returns for a third shot at the title. The 6-year-old by Gold Allure will not have to face oft-rival Hokko Tarumae as the three-time G1 winner bowed out of the race to prep for his third shot at the Dubai World Cup next month.

Copano Rickey will have to face two of Japan’s hottest 4-year-old dirt running colts, Moanin and Nonkono Yume, both of which are likely to compete for the favorite status. Moanin is coming off a recent big win in the G3 Negishi Stakes with a 4-5 record and has Mirco Demuro in the irons for insurance. Nonkono Yume cleaned everybody’s clock, including Moanin’s, in a sensational stretch run in the November G3 Tokyo Chunichi Sports Hai Musashino Stakes, and then followed that up with a second place finish in the G1 Champions Cup. Not to be outdone jockey-wise, Nonkono Yume will be under the guidance of Christophe Lemaire. (Video: Nonkono Yume wins the 11th race at the Musahino Stakes G3 at Kyoto Racecourse on Nov. 14)

Diamond Stakes G3

On Saturday Fame Game will return to Tokyo Racecourse, along with five other returnees, for another title at the 3,400-meter Diamond Stakes. The six-year-old by Heart’s Cry followed up last year’s win with a second place finish in the spring Tenno Sho before heading to Australia as the favorite in the Melbourne Cup only to get served up a ridiculously slow pace on a quicksand-infested track. Fame Game’s 13th place finish along with travel mate Hokko Brave’s 17th place finish likely generated oodles of sumimasens from their trainers and handlers.

If the predicted rain doesn’t come, and the race is run at a genuine pace, Fame Game should be back in the winners circle. Apart from the rain, Tanta Algeria by Zenno Rob Roy, a somewhat unlucky fourth in the G1 Kikaku Sho, appeals as the main threat. Fellow Melbourne Cup runner Hokko Brave and Madrid Cafe should also be handy at the finish.

Kyoto Himba Stakes G3

A full field of 18 fillies and mares — including five sired by Deep Impact — will be running in Saturday’s 1,400-meter Kyoto Himba Stakes. It should be a very close race with Uliuli, the race’s 2013 winner, 2014 favorite, and top money earner on the field, rising to the top of the tote-board. The 6-year-old by Deep Impact will have younger and jealous half-sisters Red Oval, Lethal Weapon, and Snatch Mind on her tail, as well as Ukiyono Kaze by On fire, who took third in the G1 Sprinters Stakes just over a length behind winner Straight Girl. It’s a tough call. Pass or go long.

Kokura Daishoten G3

Sunday’s sluggo graded race at Kokura Racecourse, the 1,800-meter Kokura Daishoten will feature 5-year-old Meiner Frost who has been showing good form in his last three against solid talent, and Kyoto Kimpai second placer, T M Taiho. D’accord by Deep Impact will return for a third shot after placing well 2015 and 2013. He could very well be hitting his cycle, but that’s on trainer Kazuya Nakatake. Red Arion could dig deep. It’s unlikely any of the lot will be going to the show, but let’s give 4-year-olds Beruf and Albert Dock the benefit of the doubt. This one’s a lottery. Good luck.

Tokyo Style