Top-level racing returns to Japan this weekend – and so does the Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In’ Challenge, with the 53rd running of the G1 Sprinters Stakes ay Nakayama offering a fees-paid berth in the Turf Sprint.
High-profile overseas sprinters such as Silent Witness and Takeover Target have won the 1,200-metre (6f) event in the past but Sunday’s edition is a purely domestic affair featuring a rematch between leading Japanese speedsters Danon Smash and Tower Of London, who were separated by three-quarters of a length in the G3 Keeneland Cup at Sapporo on August 25.
Hopes are high that the runner-up will be able to turn the tables when it really matters, the 4-year-old son of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Raven’s Pass having come out again two weeks later to overwhelm G2 rivals in the Centaur Stakes at Hanshin.
Like champion sprinter Fine Needle, Tower Of London (Kazuo Fujisawa/Christophe Lemaire) carries the Godolphin blue – and Fine Needle also claimed the Centaur Stakes before following up in the Sprinters Stakes 12 months ago.
Tower Of London has seemingly found his metier since being cut back to sprint trips and he could hardly have been more impressive at Hanshin, where he broke the track record for 1,200 metres in storming home in a time of 1m6.70s. Second-placed Fantasist (Tomoyuki Umeda/Yutaka Take), who reopposes on Sunday, was three lengths adrift.
“That was quite simply sensational,” commented Harry Sweeney, president of Godolphin in Japan, after the race.
“Tower Of London was again slightly sluggish out of the gates but travelled brilliantly throughout the race. It is incredible that he smashed the previous track record time with just an easy hands-and-heels ride and despite being eased down somewhat before the line.
“He had earlier this year established a new track record at Tokyo over seven furlongs and now holds the Hanshin six-furlong record too and is clearly a horse of exceptional ability.”
Danon Smash (Takayuki Yasuda/Yugi Kawada) is a son of the brilliant Lord Kanaloa, Japan’s Horse of the Year in 2013, when he completed back-to-back successes in the Sprinters Stakes, and now a leading stallion.
Danon Smash has won six of his 13 career starts, four of them at this 1,200-metre trip, and trainer Takayuki Yasuda is confident he can confirm Sapporo form with Tower Of London. “It was a big result last time, when you consider the draw he had and that he had to take the outside route all the way,” he said. “He showed a lot of class to hold the horse on the inside at the finish.”
Others to note in this JPY238 million (about $2.2m) event - run right-handed around a bend – include Mr Melody (Hideaki Fujiwara/Yuichi Fukunaga), looking for a G1 sprint double after claiming the Takamatsunomiya Kinen in March. Dirndl (Yutaka Okumura/Yusuke Fujioka) has never finished out of the first two in seven career starts, all of them at this distance; as a 3yo filly, she gets all the allowances.
The Sprinters Stakes is the fourth and final Japanese race to feature as part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge, an international series of 86 stakes races whose winners receive automatic fees-paid entries to designated races at the two-day event at Santa Anita on November 1-2.
Three horses have already qualified for the Breeders’ Cup via Japanese Challenge contests. Dirt star Inti earned a place in the Classic thanks to his February Stakes victory, while Indy Champ has a spot in the Mile after winning the Yasuda Kinen earlier this month. Lys Gracieux has a place in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf after landing the Takarazuka Kinen.
There has never been a Japanese-trained winner at the Breeders’ Cup, but Japanese-bred Karakontie, who was trained in France, won the Mile in 2014 at Santa Anita.