Two races after the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby concludes with the Hyacinth, older dirt stars will take to the Tokyo track for Sunday’s featured February S. (G1). Japan’s reigning champion dirt horse, Gold Dream, is favored to repeat in this “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
Also the winner of the 2016 Hyacinth and Unicorn (G3) over the same metric mile, Gold Dream was last seen landing the December 3 Champions Cup (G1) going an extra furlong at Chukyo. The son of Gold Allure thus became only the third horse to win the February and the Champions Cup (formerly known as the Japan Cup Dirt) in the same year. British ace Ryan Moore is back to ride Gold Dream again as he seeks another rare double by repeating in the February.
The biggest danger to the favorite, other than his tendency to problematic starts, is Champions Cup near-misser T M Jinsoku. The progressive gray by Kurofune was making his Grade 1 debut on that occasion, and could have more to offer. Unlike Gold Dream, T M Jinsoku has had a prep run, returning to Chukyo to capture the January 21 Tokai TV Hai Tokai (G2). He’s yet to race over this short a trip, but his fine record at about 1 1/16 miles, including a score in last summer’s Marine at Hakodate and near-miss to London Town in a record-setting Elm (G3) at Sapporo, imply he’s up for it. London Town, by Kane Hekili, would be an upset chance if recovering the form of his dominant Korea Cup at Seoul in September.
Nonkono Yume comes off a victory in record time himself, getting up to nip Sunrise Nova in the about seven-furlong Negishi (G3) in 1:21.50. The top Japanese dirt three-year-old of 2015, Nonkono Yume was runner-up in that year’s Champions Cup and a close second in the 2016 February. He subsequently lost his way, but gelding (edit: make that a rider change to Hiroyuki Uchida) may have helped, and the deep closer will be rolling late.
The classy turf mare Let’s Go Donki makes a rare foray into dirt, her only prior effort on the surface being a second in the 2016 JBC Ladies Classic. The daughter of King Kamehameha was a classic winner, courtesy of a bold front-running display in the 2015 Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) (G1), and she’s since reinvented herself as a sprinter. Let’s Go Donki was runner-up in both of Japan’s marquee turf sprints in 2017, the Takamatsunomiya Kinen (G1) and Sprinters S. (G1), and finished a creditable sixth last out in the Hong Kong Sprint (G1) despite missing the break. The other mare taking on the males, current JBC Ladies Classic heroine Lalabel, is accomplished on dirt but with a greater question at this class level.
K T Brave, sixth in last year’s February and fourth in the Champions Cup, is better over further. Third to Copano Rickey in the Tokyo Daishoten (G1) two back, he took the Kawasaki Kinen in his latest at about 1 5/16 miles. Awardee, Lani’s half-brother, hasn’t found the winner’s circle since his spree in 2015-16 and exits a third to K T Brave at Kawasaki. Fellow eight-year-olds Incantation, second in the 2015 February and victorious in the course-and-distance Musashino (G3) in November; Best Warrior, who just missed to Gold Dream last year and has cracked the superfecta in three of four career February S. appearances; and Sound True, who edged Awardee in the 2016 Champions Cup, can all factor at their best, although Sound True needs more ground.
Rounding out the 16-horse field are seven-furlong specialist King’s Guard, whose signature win in the Procyon (G3) came at his pet distance; JBC Sprint hero Nishiken Mononofu, yet to win at a mile and fifth in the 2017 February; the feast-or-famine Meisho Sumitomo, who’s been outclassed in his three previous Grade 1 attempts; and multiple Grade 3 scorer Nobo Baccara, off form for most of the past year.
Post time for the February is 1:40 a.m. (EST) late Saturday night/early Sunday morning, about an hour and 15 minutes after the Hyacinth.