As the European Road to the Kentucky Derby goes on winter holiday, the international points action shifts to the Japan Road. The four-race series kicks off Friday night 12:15 a.m. (EST) with the Cattleya Sho at Tokyo.
Worth points on a 10-4-2-1 sliding scale (on the Japan leaderboard) to the top four finishers, the allowance has attracted a 14-strong field. No fewer than 11 juveniles are stepping up in class from maiden wins.
Bettors have so far latched onto the one with the gaudiest profile – $650,000 Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream two-year-old purchase Make Happy, who smashed a newcomers’ event here by 10 lengths. The California-bred filly by Square Eddie is a full sister to 2015 Hopeful (G1) winner Ralis as well as multiple stakes scorer and Grade 3-placed B Squared, and her debut voyage suggested she’ll be earning her own black type in time.
Aside from being proven at the Cattleya Sho course and metric mile distance, Make Happy can boast useful form as the placegetters have since gone on to win too. She keeps Christophe Lemaire in the saddle but must negotiate extra ground from post 14.
Lemaire’s former partner, the Empire Maker colt Romantico, is currently trading as the second favorite with new pilot Ryan Moore. The Kazuo Fujisawa trainee was a debut third on the Hakodate turf July 15, second in a September 1 Sapporo maiden on dirt, and a resounding seven-length conqueror of a maiden at this track and trip. Romantico dictated the pace on an off track that day but looked a classy operator on the upswing.
Kentucky-bred Washington Tesoro also shaped a league apart in a newcomers’ race at Fukushima, tracking the pacesetter before galloping by nine lengths in hand. The Curlin half-brother to San Clemente (G2) winner War Heroine, who sold for $550,000 at Keeneland September, is eligible to progress much further.
The same can be said for Godolphin’s Kingen, a three-length winner of a Hanshin newcomers’ race. The Darley Japan homebred by Gold Allure rallied from just off the pace in the slop to beat a colt who came back to romp in his own maiden. Kingen now gets a rider switch to Godolphin’s William Buick.
Although dropping her two starts since upsetting a Tokyo newcomers’ event back in June, Rhein Carina is being “nibbled at” in the market. The Pyro filly tried turf at Niigata, finishing fifth to A Will a Way, the subsequent near-misser in the Keio Hai Nisai (G2). Back on dirt for the October 13 Platanus Sho, a similar allowance over this course and distance, she placed third. Rhein Carina may have needed that race off a two-month break, but she’ll have to do better.
Other Tokyo maiden winners aiming to take a step forward are Evacuant, a Kentucky-bred by Street Boss who brought $200,000 at OBS April; Peisha Mouton, who passed the bulk of the field in his five-length score; Naran Huleg and Kanashibari, one-two in a newcomers’ race before the latter won herself; Kentucky-bred Congrats colt Seiun Kobe, a $150,000 OBS March buy representing trainer Hideyuki Mori and jockey Keita Tosaki; and Wild Trader.
Johann comes off a Kyoto maiden victory in his dirt debut following a pair of unplaced efforts on turf. Seiun Offroad tries the same gambit after failing to progress on the lawn. Peisha Lil Kiss, fourth in the Platanus Sho and fifth in the Oxalis Sho, has the most questions to answer.