May 18, 2024

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

Triple Crown champ Contrail dominated the 2020 Japanese Derby (Copyright Japan Racing Association)

Not quite 12 hours after the SpaceX launch from Kennedy Space Center, another rocket achieved liftoff at Tokyo Racecourse – Shinji Maeda’s undefeated Contrail. The 2-5 favorite ran away with Sunday’s Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) (G1), setting himself up for a potential Triple Crown sweep in the Oct. 25 Kikuka Sho (Japanese St Leger) (G1).

Last year’s champion 2-year-old colt had generated such buzz going into the classics that there was speculation about whether he might attempt the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1). And the antepost market reacted to his Derby display, with his price as low as 10-1 according to the Racing Post.

But in the immediate aftermath trainer Yoshito Yahagi indicated that the third jewel of Japan’s Triple Crown was his target, not Paris. The step up to about 1 7/8 miles in the Kikuka Sho should pose no difficulty for Contrail, who’d emulate his late, great sire Deep Impact as an unbeaten Triple Crown winner. Deep Impact and Contrail would also become the first father-and-son Triple Crown champions in Japanese racing history.

In the first jewel, the about 1 1/4-mile Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) (G1), Contrail outstayed key rival Salios by a half-length. His supremacy was magnified over the extra quarter-mile at Tokyo, where Salios again proved best of the rest.

Under regular rider Yuichi Fukunaga, Contrail was perched in a ground-saving spot within striking distance of early leader Win Carnelian. The complexion of the race changed down the backstretch, as My Rhapsody made a move from near the rear to take control. Cortesia and Deep Bond were prominent as well, while Salios bided his time further back.

Contrail was still on the bridle well into the stretch, and Fukunaga only had to steer him into the clear to assert. Salios produced a fine turn of foot, clocking his last 3 furlongs in :34.1, but Contrail blasted away from him anyway. The winner’s better early position, combined with a final split of :34.0, resulted in a three-length decision.

Salios had 1 3/4 lengths to spare from Weltreisende, who just held third by a head from the belatedly rallying Satono Impresa. Deep Bond checked in fifth, followed by Galore Creek, Black Hole, Wakea, My Rhapsody, Bitterender, Satono Flag, Cortesia, Darlington Hall, Valcos, L’Excellence, Man of Spirit, Win Carnelian, and Al Jannah.

Contrail completed about 1 1/2 miles on the firm course in 2:24.1 to extend his record to 5-for-5. And connections believe he’s still on the upgrade, a point reiterated by Fukunaga afterward.

“I was just focusing on finishing this race on a high note and although he still has room for improvement – he tends to lose his focus when he’s leading – he still is able to win like he did today, so he’s got great potential and there’s a lot to look forward to in this colt,” the winning rider commented.

“The pace was not really flowing in the first half, but I sort of expected Nori-san (Norihiro Yokoyama on My Rhapsody) to make a move like that and it opened up the path for me to reach the horse in front (second position) which was critical.”

Contrail’s three victories as a juvenile included the about 9-furlong Tokyo Sports Hai Nisai (G3), in a course-record 1:44.5, and the championship-clinching Hopeful (G1) over a panel farther at Nakayama. The Maeda homebred returned to that course and distance to triumph in the April 19 Satsuki Sho.

If Contrail adds the Kikuka Sho, he’d become the eighth winner of Japan’s Triple Crown after St. Lite (1941), Shinzan (1964), Mr. C. B. (1983), Symboli Rudolf (1984), Narita Brian (1994), his sire Deep Impact (2005), and Orfevre (2011).

The last two winners represent the male line of Hall of Famer Sunday Silence, who captured the 1989 Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1). His U.S. Triple Crown bid was famously thwarted by Easy Goer in the Belmont (G1).

Contrail’s dam, Kentucky-bred Rhodochrosite, is by Unbridled’s Song and out of champion Folklore. Both of her parents won Breeders’ Cup races for juveniles, while both of her grandsires landed the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), Unbridled (1990) and Tiznow (2000-01). Sunday Silence also earned a Breeders’ Cup verdict over archrival Easy Goer, making for three Classic winners in Contrail’s immediate pedigree.