There are consecutive weeks of Grade 1 races in Japan from the end of March on. And this coming Sunday (April 2) sees the Osaka Hai set to be run at Hanshin Racecourse. It is just one week before the Grade 1 Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas).
The first top-level race of the year for the older middle-distance horses, the Grade 1 Osaka Hai is for 4-year-olds and up and run over 2,000 meters on the inner turf track at Hanshin. It was first run in 1957, when it was a handicap and run over 1,800 meters. Previously known as the Sankei Osaka Hai, the distance was changed to 2,000 meters in 1972 and it became a Grade 2 in 1984. It became an international race in 2003 and achieved its Grade 1 status as recently as 2017.
There are some big names among the 18 nominations for this year's race, which will have a maximum of 16 runners. The set weight is 58 kg, with a 2-kg allowance for fillies and mares.
Prominent Past Winners of Osaka Hai
Some of the famous winners in recent times have been Orfevre (2013), Kizuna (2014) and Kitasan Black (2017). Longshots often pop up to win, as could be seen last year when Potager surprised at odds of 58/1. First favorites have won just three times in the past 10 years, with 5-year-olds proving the dominant age group, winning six times in the same time period.
Preparation for the Osaka Hai
A couple of races leading into the Grade 1 Osaka Hai have been the Grade 2 Nakayama Kinen run over 1,800 meters in February and the Grade 2 Kinko Sho run over 2,000 meters at Chukyo in March. Hiruno d'Amour holds the record time for the race when he won in a time of 1 minute, 57.8 seconds in 2011. Prize money for the winner this year is ¥200 million JPY (approximately $1.5 million USD) and automatic entry to this year's Grade 1 Irish Champions Stakes (Leopardstown, Ireland) is also offered to the winner.
The 67th running of the Grade 1 Osaka Hai will be Race 11 on the Sunday card at Hanshin, with a post time in Japan of 3:40 PM.
Here's a look at some of the runners in Sunday's big race:
Stars on Earth to Make 2023 Debut
Stars on Earth: Winner of the first two Classics for fillies in 2022, the now 4-year-old, sired by Duramente, returns here for her first run of the year.
Trainer Mizuki Takayanagi recently had the following to say on the filly: "She didn't get the best of starts in the Shuka Sho, so her position throughout the race wasn't so good, but she ran well at the end to get the best result possible. After the race, she had desmitis in her left foreleg and so needed a rest. We've monitored the situation since, but she now seems fine and has been moving well in her recent work."
Christophe Lemaire looks set to partner the filly once again.
Weltreisende Vying for Fifth Career Win
Weltreisende: Trained by Yasutoshi Ikee, Weltreisende has only had 13 career starts and has won four times. That includes his last race, when he got up well to win the Grade 2 Nikkei Shinshun Hai over 2,200 meters at Chukyo in January, when ridden by David Egan.
Assistant trainer Yuki Iwasaki said: "He was the only horse to carry 59 kg in the Nikkei Shinshun Hai, and had to wait to get a clear run at the top of the straight, but it was a strong performance overall. After that he went to the farm, but he returned last month and everything's been going well with his training since."
The 6-year-old Weltreisende is by Dream Journey and this time he'll be ridden by Yuga Kawada.
Trainer's Thoughts on Jack d'Or
Jack d'Or: The strong, front-running 5-year-old wasn't able to show his best when he finished seventh last time in the Grade 1 Hong Kong Cup in December 2022. But back on home ground he could prove a tougher prospect, as he has shown before in his domestic races.
Trainer Kenichi Fujioka commented: "He's had a nice break at Yoshizawa Stable West and since returning to the stable, he's been his usual self. He's the type to choose his own way of doing things, and as long as he finds a good natural rhythm, he runs well."
Author: JRA News