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Horse Racing

Oka Sho Preview: Ascoli Piceno Brings Perfect Record into the 1st Leg of Fillies' Triple Crown

Daiwa Major-sired Ascoli Piceno, winner of the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies in December 2023, is among the top entrants for the 84th running of the Oka Sho.

On Sunday, April 7, Hanshin Racecourse once again hosts the Japan Racing Association's big event, the Grade 1 Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas), the first leg of the Classics for 3-year-old fillies.

It is the 84th running of the race and joins with the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) in May and the Shuka Sho in the autumn to comprise the Japanese Fillies' Triple Crown. Each Classic is a once-in-a-lifetime shot at glory, and capturing all three races is arguably the highest honor a 3-year-old filly can achieve.

The shortest of the three races at 1,600 meters, the Oka Sho is open to a full gate of 18 and carries a purse of over ¥302 million JPY (upwards of $2 million USD) and a first-place prize of ¥140 million (around $920,000).

Striking dark bay Ascoli Piceno is the field standout. Winner of the 2-year-old filly pinnacle Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies and named Top 2-Year-Old Filly of 2023, she's unbeaten from three starts.

If Ascoli Piceno can extend her winning streak this time out, she'll become the ninth filly in Japan racing history to capture the first Classic with a pristine record.

Info on the Oka Sho's Course and Recent Race History

The Oka Sho is run over the right-handed outer Hanshin course and starts in the backstretch with about 450 meters to the first turn. A sweeping turn and a downhill slope take the runners around the bend to the homestretch spanning just over 470 meters.

The track continues to slope downward until it abruptly goes back up from shortly past the final furlong pole, and the ground rises 1.8 meters before it flattens with 80 meters left to go in the race. As for the pace of the Oka Sho, it tends to be relaxed and horses with excellent late speed tend to emerge the winner.

The race favorites have only won twice in the past 10 runnings of the Oka Sho, but have figured in the top-3 finishers six times. In addition, the second favorites have emerged the winner four times.

All runners are saddled with 55 kg in the Oka Sho, the 11th race on Hanshin's Sunday card of 12. Post time is 3:40 PM in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture.

Here's a look at the expected top picks.

Hanshin Juvenile Fillies
Ascoli Piceno, ridden by Hiroshi Kitamura, earns a narrow victory in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies on December 10, 2023, in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture. (ⒸSANKEI)

Ascoli Piceno Returns to Competition After a 3½-Month Layoff

Unbeaten in her three starts thus far, this daughter of Daiwa Major is not only proven over a mile, but she's also demonstrated her racing ability on the Hanshin 1,600-meter outer course. Ascoli Piceno has already landed two graded events, the Grade 3 Niigata Nisai Stakes, where she competed against colts as well, and her most recent race, the Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies on December 10, 2023. 

She goes to the Oka Sho unprepped with a three-and-a-half month gap between races, but she took on the Juvenile Fillies with about the same time between races and was successful. 

Though based at the Miho Training Center in Ibaraki Prefecture, which is located in eastern Japan, her trainer Yoichi Kuroiwa has once again (as he did for the Juvenile Fillies) sent her to Ritto, Shiga Prefecture, ahead of time. The reason? To avoid the long trip to Hanshin Racecourse directly before the race.

Ascoli Piceno worked under jockey Hiroshi Kitamura on March 27 and the sloppy track did not show her to her best, but expectations remain high. 

She has blistering late speed, with final three-furlong times in her last three races all in the 33-second range, which seems perfect for the long stretch of the Hanshin mile.

Oka Sho
Queen's Walk exercises at the Ritto Training Center on April 3. (©SANKEI)

It's just a shoe!

Queen's Walk Set to Make G1 Racing Debut

Taking on her first Grade 1 race, Kizuna-sired Queen's Walk heads into the Oka Sho with two wins and one second from her three starts, and it includes victory in the Grade 3 Queen Cup over 1,600 meters at Tokyo Racecourse on February 10. It was her first start at the distance and her first graded race.

A huge filly weighing over 515 kg, the Mitsumasa Nakauchida-trained Queen's Walk has been successful racing to the right as well, though her first two starts were a furlong longer. Her expected partner is Yuga Kawada, who won the Oka Sho aboard Stars on Earth in 2022 and triumphed again in 2023 with Liberty Island (also trained by Nakauchida). 

Kawada aims to become the first Japanese jockey to pilot three Oka Sho winners in a row.

Read the rest of this article about the Oka Sho as well as the Japanese horses in contention on JRA News.

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Author: JRA News

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