June 26, 2022

Snow-white star Sodashi tests dirt in Champions Cup

Sodashi beat next-out Breeders' Cup winner Loves Only You in the Sapporo Kinen (Copyright Japan Racing Association)

Japan’s celebrated white filly Sodashi, who sports a win over Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) winner Loves Only You, will test her dirt aptitude in Sunday’s $2 million Champions Cup (G1) at Chukyo. If the pin-up girl topples a field led by defending champ Chuwa Wizard and Cafe Pharoah, the lucrative Saudi Cup (G1) and Dubai World Cup (G1) could be in play.

Read more: Japan’s white filly Sodashi could seek ‘Sho-time’ on world stage

Race 11 – Champions Cup (G1) (1:30 a.m. ET)

Last year’s unbeaten champion two-year-old filly, Sodashi retained her perfect mark in the Apr. 11 Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) (G1) in course-record time. But the Naosuke Sugai trainee ran well below her best in the other two fillies’ classics, tiring to eighth in the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) (G1) and 10th in the Oct. 17 Shuka Sho (G1). The about 1 1/2-mile Oaks was arguably too far for her, while she was compromised in the gate for the Shuka Sho, hitting her head and bleeding from a dental injury.

Sodashi is best judged by her victory in between those losses, the Aug. 22 Sapporo Kinen (G2), where she beat Loves Only You as well as older males. Despite having to expend more energy early from post 13, she made the most of her tactical speed to prevail in 1:59.50 for about 1 1/4 miles.

The cutback to about 1 1/8 miles in the Champions Cup helps Sodashi’s cause, as does her weight allowance as a sophomore filly. Her forward style ought to play well on dirt, and she’s drawn the rail with regular rider Hayato Yoshida.

“She’s been relaxed in training and hasn’t used everything she’s got,” Sugai said. “On her pedigree, it looks like she’ll be able to perform on dirt, and in her training uphill she’s been running well and posting good times.

“I think she’s well prepared for her first run on dirt over 1,800 meters, and all looks to be good, including the weight she’ll carry. She’s a challenger in this next race, but I want to see her put in a good run. From the start, I hope she can be well forward and not use up too much too soon.”

Sodashi is bidding to make history for herself and for her sire, Kurofune. She’d become the first female to win JRA Grade 1s on both turf and dirt. Kurofune, himself a turf star who crushed this race under its original Japan Cup Dirt branding, would become the first winner to sire one.

Chuwa Wizard
Chuwa Wizard wins the 2020 Champions Cup (Horsephotos.com)

Chuwa Wizard is trying to become the race’s third two-time winner, but the first since its transfer to Chukyo. Transcend (2010-11) repeated in its Hanshin phase, and Kane Hekili won in its initial conditions at Tokyo (2005) as well as at Hanshin (2008).

Since his 12-1 upset here last December, Chuwa Wizard has had mixed fortunes. The one-turn Saudi Cup didn’t suit his strengths, as he wound up ninth to Mishriff and Charlatan. But the son of King Kamehameha was more effective back around two turns in the Dubai World Cup, finishing second to Mystic Guide. Sidelined by injury following a sixth to T. O. Keynes in the June 30 Teio Sho at Oi, Chuwa Wizard warmed up with a third in the Nov. 3 JBC Classic.

Chuwa Wizard’s trainer, Ryuji Okubo, noted that the change of venue plus added fitness equals a stronger result:

“He’s been training with his race jockey (Keita Tosaki) up, and the horse seems his usual self and has been moving well. There’s no real change with him, even after his overseas trips. It’ll be much better for him switching from the small oval of the NAR track last time (Kanazawa) to Chukyo this time, and it’s where he won last year, so things look good for him. Like last year, I hope he can get a good position and use his power at the finish. An average to fast pace would suit. After his first run back from injury last time, he’ll be better for that run and he should run well here.”

Cafe Pharoah has lacked the consistency of sire American Pharoah, but the half-brother to Matriarch (G1) winner Regal Glory remains capable of a high-class effort. The addition of blinkers could galvanize him.

Initially grabbing attention on the 2020 Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby, Cafe Pharoah flopped behind Danon Pharaoh in the Japan Dirt Derby, rebounded in the Sirius (G3), then regressed to sixth behind Chuwa Wizard in last year’s Champions Cup. Cafe Pharoah was back on song with a career-best in the February S. (G1) on Feb. 21, only to lose the plot again with a fifth to Casino Fountain in the Kashiwa Kinen and a ninth in the Hakodate Kinen (G3) on turf.

Freshened since that July 18 attempt, Cafe Pharoah will break from the far outside post 16 with Christophe Lemaire. Trainer Noriyuki Hori hopes that the headgear won’t make the colt too eager.

“We’ve been monitoring his training, and fitting different types of blinkers, he’s looked good and has been running well, picking up speed naturally by himself,” Hori said. “It’s also been important to check his start and make sure he gets into a good rhythm. As a horse with speed, he should respond well to the sharp turns at Chukyo, and the blinkers should help, but over the 1,800 meters and running with the blinkers, he might just pull a bit.”

Cafe Pharoah
Cafe Pharoah wins the February Stakes (Copyright Japan Racing Association)

Inti hasn’t won since the 2019 February S., but he’s placed third in the last two runnings of the Champions Cup. Auvergne likewise has an affinity for Chukyo, with a 3-for-3 local mark highlighted by the Jan. 24 Tokai TV Hai Tokai (G2) and the May 22 Heian (G3) in track-record time.

Improving four-year-old Sunrise Hope just scored his first graded win on this track in the Oct. 2 renewal of the Sirius, and the similarly-profiled Meisho Hario captured the Miyako (G3) over Another Truth, Clincher, Elm (G3) winner Suave Aramis, and Auvergne. Suave Aramis, a stablemate of Sodashi from the Sugai yard, lost his chance by stumbling at the start, and a clean break would put the stalker in his preferred position. Air Spinel was most recently runner-up in the Musashino (G3), and fellow veteran Sunrise Nova stretches out from a second in the JBC Sprint.

Aside from Chuwa Wizard, four others look to move forward from the JBC Classic. The aforementioned T. O. Keynes had his three-race winning skein snapped when fourth, but connections expect him to fare better around the bigger Chukyo track. The venerable multiple Grade 1-placed K T Brave, hero of the 2018 JBC Classic, was fifth. JBC Classic sixth Casino Fountain, an NAR denizen, was runner-up in the Tokyo Daishoten (G1) in his only other Grade 1 attempt. Seventh-placer Danon Pharaoh represents two-time Breeders’ Cup winner Yoshito Yahagi, who sent out hot favorite Contrail to win last Sunday’s Japan Cup (G1).