This Sunday (April 9), at Hanshin Racecourse, the fillies get a headstart on the 3-year-old Classics. The 83rd running of the Grade 1 Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) has attracted 25 nominees for its 18 berths and a total purse topping ¥300 million JPY ($2.27 million USD).
What's at stake: The first filly to cross the line after conquering 1,600 meters of turf will land ¥140 million JPY ($1.06 million USD).
The spotlight is turned on the fleet-footed Liberty Island, a Duramente daughter, and awardee of the JRA Best Two-Year-Old Filly for 2022. In that same spotlight is Light Quantum, a hot new Deep Impact filly who won the Grade 3 Shinzan Kinen in January.
The Oka Sho is the shortest of the Fillies' Classic races and is followed by the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) over 2,400 meters at Tokyo Racecourse in May. And finally, the Shuka Sho wraps it up (back in Kyoto this year) in October over 2,000 meters.
The Oka Sho starts in the backstretch of the Hanshin outer course with about 450 meters to the turn, which is on a bit of a downhill. Into the straight, nearly 480 meters long, the track rises about two meters from 200 meters. And the early pace is often relaxed and the race often won by a burst of lightning-fast speed.
Oka Sho History in the Past Decade
The Oka Sho favorite has only won once in the last 10 runnings, back in 2014 when Harp Star took top honors. But, the No 1 pick at post time has figured in the top 3 finishers six times over the same time period (double-digit dark horses never). A filly with only one prior win to her name going into the Oka Sho has won the race four times over the last decade. There are five fillies in that position this year ― Kona Coast, Perifania, June Orange, Conch Shell and Doe Eyes.
The Oka Sho is the 11th race on Hanshin's Sunday card of 12. Post time is 3:40 PM. All runners will carry 55 kg.
Sodashi, who won in 1 minute, 31.1 seconds in 2021, is the current Oka Sho record-holder.
Here's a look at the likely top picks.
Liberty Island Aiming for More Success
Trainer Mitsumasa Nakauchida has only tested his Duramente-sired Liberty Island over 1,600 meters. In winning her debut at Niigata in the summer of 2022, she tied the JRA record for the fastest time over the final three furlongs ― 31.4 seconds. She returned three months later in the Grade 3 Artemis Stakes and missed the win by a neck, then made good with the Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies, quite an accomplishment considering her career was only 118 days old.
Jockey Yuga Kawada, current JRA leading jockey and regular rider for Liberty Island, will take the reins on Sunday. After his win last year aboard Stars on Earth (seventh pick at the time), he's looking to become only the sixth rider thus far to make it two in a row.
Light Quantum Returns to Competition
Trainer Koshiro Take fields Light Quantum, a Deep Impact filly that did not debut until late in her 2-year-old year. She took on the Tokyo 1,600 meters and went wire to wire under jockey Christophe Lemaire, to top the field by two-and-a-half lengths.
Next out in the Grade 3 Shinzan Kinen with Yutaka Take up, Light Quantum was slow away, and raced wide amid the small field of seven. She displayed the lightness of foot, spring in her gait of her sire and, perhaps most importantly, showed her sharp turn of foot, the kind that carries a horse to the top of the field with apparent effortlessness. That was in early January, but the time off isn't expected to pose a problem.
The biggest unknown is how she will fare racing to the right for the first time. She will also carry 1 kg more than she has before.