April 17, 2024

Contrail all heart in Kikuka Sho to clinch Japanese Triple Crown

Contrail wins the Kikuka Sho 2020
Contrail digs deep to see off Aristoteles in the 2020 Kikuka Sho to sweep Japan's Triple Crown undefeated (Copyright Japan Racing Association)

Shinji Maeda’s homebred champion Contrail looked in danger of losing his unbeaten record, and the Japanese Triple Crown, when Aristoteles engaged him in a fierce battle in Sunday’s Kikuka Sho (G1) at Kyoto. But the worthy son of 2005 Triple Crown legend Deep Impact withstood the pressure and fended off his rival by a neck in a thriller.

RELATED: Pedigree profile of Contrail

“I can’t say that I was successful in keeping him relaxed during the race with so much pressure from Aristoteles,” regular rider Yuichi Fukunaga said.

“It turned out to be a tough race for us with Aristoteles looking quite strong and persistent, and this race may not have been his best performance, but I kept my faith in Contrail and he certainly showed how strong he is to have maintained his position up to the end of the 3,000-meter trip.”

The about 1 7/8-mile distance of the “Japanese St Leger” appeared to stretch Contrail, who had to dig deeper than ever before in his seven-race career. Although his margin was a half-length in the first jewel, the about 1 1/4-mile Satsuki Sho (G1) at Nakayama Apr. 19, he was strong in the finish as he edged away from Salios. Contrail rolled by three lengths in the about 1 1/2-mile Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) (G1) May 31, and he sailed through his prep, the Sept. 27 Kobe Shimbun Hai (G2) at Chukyo, by a geared-down two lengths.

Thus fans bet Contrail down to 1-10 favoritism in the Kikuka Sho, but the Yoshito Yahagi trainee had more of a fight on his hands than the market suggested. As Fukunaga tried to switch him off early in seventh, jockey Christophe Lemaire had Aristoteles flanking the favorite throughout. Meanwhile, massive longshot Chimera Verite was leading the way, until the final turn when he dropped out of it, and the tracking Babbitt took charge.

A patient Fukunaga restrained Contrail as long as he could, but when he cruised forward in the stretch, he found himself in an unfamiliar role – of hunted. For Aristoteles, a 22-1 chance who was making his graded debut, was not only covering his move, but appeared to be going better.

History was at stake as Contrail met his supreme challenge. Would he emulate sire Deep Impact, thereby becoming the first father-son team to sweep the Japanese Triple Crown? Would Japan celebrate its first-ever “double” sweep of the classics in the same year, after Daring Tact completed the Fillies’ Triple Crown last Sunday?

Aristoteles, by the same sire as Daring Tact in Epiphaneia, did his utmost to try to keep the filly as the lone triple-classic winner of the season. And his deep pedigree was coming into play in that final struggle. Epiphaneia was himself a Kikuka Sho hero in 2013. Aristoteles’ dam, the Deep Impact mare Blue Diamond, is a three-quarter sister to 2003 Kikuka Sho runner-up and 2004 Hanshin Daishoten (G2) victor Lincoln. Aristoteles could call upon a stamina-oriented European family, with his fourth dam being Sun Princess, the 1983 St Leger (G1) and Oaks (G1) winner.

Contrail hails from a less stout American female line, but a superb one tracing to blue hen *La Troienne. His dam, Rhodochrysite, is a daughter of Unbridled’s Song and Folklore – both Breeders’ Cup champions as 2-year-olds. Folklore is by two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) hero Tiznow, from the immediate family of recent Breeders’ Futurity (G1) winner and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) hopeful Essential Quality. This line is also associated with sprinters like Come Dancing and Biddy Duke who won Saturday’s Sen. Ken Maddy (G3).

At a further remove, one finds 2004 Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1) star Smarty Jones, who was denied by Birdstone in the Belmont (G1). Would Contrail experience the same heartbreak in the final stages of the Kikuka Sho?

Rising to the occasion, Contrail willed to maintain a slim advantage over Aristoteles. Neither wavered, neither relented in the protracted battle, but Contrail stayed just in front as they reached the wire in a final time of 3:05.5.

RELATED: Contrail wins clash of unbeatens in Japan’s Satsuki Sho

Contrail is only the third to achieve the sweep while undefeated, like Deep Impact and Symboli Rudolf (1984). He is Japan’s eighth Triple Crown winner overall, succeeding Orfevre (2011).

Deep Impact was also responsible for third-placer Satono Flag, who rallied from farther back. Fourth Deep Bond is by Deep Impact’s champion son Kizuna. Next came Black Hole; Robertson Quay; Weltreisende, disappointing as the 9-1 second choice; Valcos; Galore Creek; Babbitt; Man of Spirit; Satono Impresa; Diamant Minoru; Turkish Palace; Danon Gloire; L’Excellence; Bitterender; and the distanced Chimera Verite.

RELATED: Contrail blasts off in Japanese Derby, aims for Triple Crown sweep

Now 7-for-7, Contrail likely won’t have to endure such a severe test of stamina again, with marquee events in the vicinity of 1 1/2 miles under consideration next. His options later this fall include the Nov. 29 Japan Cup (G1), and a potential clash with Daring Tact, as well as the Dec. 27 Arima Kinen (G1).

In 2021, chances are Contrail will broaden his horizons beyond Japan. Perhaps like the past two Triple Crown winners, Deep Impact and Orfevre, he’ll pursue the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) – and try to nab the prize that has eluded his compatriots in Paris.

FPBKPPHorse Odds Margin 
123Contrail (JPN)1.103:05.5
Yuichi Fukunaga-1-35.2
259Aristoteles (JPN) 23Neck (35.1)
Christophe Lemaire-4
3510Satono Flag (JPN)34.93-1/2 (35.2)
Keita Tosaki-5
448Deep Bond (JPN)51.6Neck (36.1)
Ryuji Wada-7
5715Black Hole (JPN)116.8Neck (35.4)
Yusuke Fujioka-14
6713Robertson Quay (JPN)76.72
Takuma Ito-9-35.6
736Weltreisende (JPN)10.32
Kenichi Ikezoe-2-36.3
8714Valcos (JPN)42.21-1/4 (36.5)
Yasunari Iwata-6
912Galore Creek (JPN)82.52-1/2 (37.4)
Yuga Kawada-10
10611Babbitt (JPN)12.5Neck (37.7)
Hiroyuki Uchida-3
1124Man of Spirit (JPN)116.6Neck (36.9)
Mirco Demuro-13
1235Satono Impresa (JPN)96.91
Ryusei Sakai-11-37.2
1311Diamant Minoru (JPN)109.91/2 (37.1)
Hideaki Miyuki-12
14816Turkish Palace (IRE)254.4Neck (36.6)
Akatsuki Tomita-16
1547Danon Gloire (JPN)64.23-1/2 (38.1)
Yuichi Kitamura-8
16612L’Excellence (JPN)140.64
 Kohei Matsuyama-15-38.4
17818Bitterender (JPN)302.11-1/4 (38.3)
Akihide Tsumura-17
18817Chimera Verite (JPN) 324Distance (41.8)
BFuma Matsuwaka-18