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Horse Racing

Osaka Hai Preview: For 4-Year-Olds, the 1st High-Level Middle-Distance Race of 2024

In the past decade, 5-year-olds have won the Osaka Hai six times, while Suave Richard was the last favorite to win the 2,000-meter event in 2018.

The Japan Racing Association spring Grade 1 races continue on Sunday, March 31, when the 68th Osaka Hai will be run at Hanshin Racecourse over 2,000 meters on the inner turf course. 

Open to 4-year-olds and up, it is the first high-level middle-distance race of 2024 for some of Japan's top horses, as they tune up for other big races later this year.

The race was first run in 1957 when it was a handicap and known as the Sankei Osaka Hai. Then it was contested over a distance of 1,800 meters. In 1972, the distance was changed to its current 2,000 meters, and it became a Grade 2 race in 1984. 

It was opened to overseas runners in 2003. The most recent change has been its elevation to Grade 1 status, just in 2017, making it the latest JRA Grade 1. That same year the race name was changed to Osaka Hai.

Facts and Figures About the Osaka Hai

Some famous winners of the race have included Orfevre (2013), Kizuna (2014) and Kitasan Black (2017) to name just a few. This year sees 20 nominations for the maximum number of 16 runners allowed in the race. Weights are set at 58 kg, with a 2 kg allowance for fillies and mares. 

Record time for the race was set in 2023, when Jack d'Or managed an all-the-way win in 1 minute, 57.4 seconds.

The last 10 years haven't been kind to the first favorites, with just two of them winning, and the last one to do so was Suave Richard in 2018. Better performances have come from 5-year-olds, which have won six times in the past decade. Even more dominance is held by horses trained at Shiga Prefecture's Ritto Training Center, where winners of the race every year since 2000 have been trained. 

This year's Grade 1 Osaka Hai carries a total prize money of ¥432 million JPY ($2.8 million USD), with ¥200 million (approximately $1.4 million) going to the winner. In addition, the winner receives an automatic entry to the Grade 1 Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown in September.

The 68th running of the Grade 1 Osaka Hai will be Race 11 on the Sunday card at Hanshin, with a post time locally of 3:40 PM. 

Here's a look at some of the runners expected to play a part in the big race.

Tokyo Yushun
Damian Lane rides Tastiera (center) en route to victory in the 90th Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) on May 28, 2023, at Tokyo Racecourse. (KYODO)

Tastiera Looks to Replicate Success from Tokyo Yushun

Tastiera, the 2023 Grade 1 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) winner, hasn't won since that big day last May. But he has only had two runs since then, with his latest being a sixth-place finish in December's Grade 1 Arima Kinen. 

Top trainer Noriyuki Hori is doing his best to have the son of Satono Crown in good shape for this next run. 

"He came back to the stable at the end of February, and his appetite has been better than it was before the Arima Kinen," Hori said.

The trainer added, "He's in good condition, and looks well in his coat, so I think he's refreshed, even though he's still a little tense. His balance is good, and we've just been taking care regarding his hindquarters, which can be a bit of a weak point for him." 

Jockey Kohei Matsuyama will get the ride on Tastiera this time, and he has had previous success with the horse.

Osaka Hai
Sol Oriens exercises in Miho, Ibaraki Prefecture, on March 27. (©SANKEI)

It's just a shoe!

Trainer Pleased with Sol Oriens' Preparations

Sol Oriens, a 4-year-old colt by Kitasan Black, has had just one run in 2024, when he was sent off as the favorite for the Grade 2 Nakayama Kinen over 1,800 meters on February 25 and finished fourth. But he did manage the best final three-furlong time (36.4 seconds) in that race.

"He ran quite well last time, in what was his first race in a while," trainer Takahisa Tezuka commented.

Tezuka added, "He was well back in the run, and had just a bit too much to do in the end, having to race wide, but he still put in a good finish. His jockey that day (Hironobu Tanabe) recommended trying blinkers in training, and the horse has been moving well in his work with the blinkers on."

Jockey Takeshi Yokoyama will partner with Sol Oriens on Sunday, and even though it'll be the horse's first start at Hanshin, the jockey knows what to do to get the best out of him.

Osaka Hai
Bellagio Opera works out at the JRA Ritto Training Center in Ritto, Shiga Prefecture, on March 20. (©SANKEI)

Bellagio Opera Owns a Pair of Wins at Hanshin Racecourse

It is four wins from seven starts for the Lord Kanaloa-sired Bellagio Opera, and two of his wins have come at Hanshin. He warmed up for this next race with a second-place finish in the Grade 2 Kyoto Kinen over 2,200 meters on February 11.

Trainer Hiroyuki Uemura is confident about his chances.

"His responses were good enough in his last race, and he just lost out by having to race on the inside of Pradaria in the closing stages, and that horse probably had the better ground," Uemura said of Bellagio Opera. "Despite losing in the finish, it looks like he can still improve more."

Jockey Kazuo Yokoyama, Takeshi's older brother, has struck up a good partnership with Bellagio Opera and will be looking to add to his two JRA Grade 1 victories, both achieved with Titleholder.

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

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Author: JRA News

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