In the run-up to the 41st Japan Cup on Sunday, November 28, JAPAN Forward is highlighting two of the most accomplished horses in the field, Contrail and Shahryar.
The pair of stories were first published in Japanese by our media partner Weekly Gallop, a weekly magazine specializing in horse racing published in Japanese by The Sankei Shimbun as a Sankei Sports Special Edition. Launched in October 1993, the popular magazine is loved by many Japanese horse racing fans.
Join JAPAN Forward and Weekly Gallop as we share some of the backstory of these top contenders in Japanese horse racing today.
Determined to prove the strength of the compelling 3-year-old generation, Shahryar is set to dominate the Japanese Derby and the Japan Cup in the same year, a feat that has not been achieved since Jungle Pocket in 2001.
Shahryar will be racing against Contrail, Wagnerian and Makahiki, making the event a unique race featuring four Derby winners from four different generations. With Pixie Knight winning the Sprinters Stakes and Efforia winning the Tenno Sho (Autumn), the 3-year-olds are thriving in the 2021 Grade I races, in which they race alongside the older horses.
Shahryar made his debut on October 25, 2020, the same day that Contrail achieved the Triple Crown in the Kikuka Sho last year. He first claimed victory in a maiden race known in Japan as the "Legendary Maiden Race," as it has produced many colts who later became G1 stars, including Epiphaneia, World Premiere, Unrivaled and Buena Vista. Continuing the legend, Shahryar went on to capture the Mainichi Cup (G3) with a course record of 1:43.9.
This year, he skipped the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) on April 18, previously won by his full-brother Al Ain, and participated in the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) on May 30. Entering the big competition in his best condition, he defeated the Satsuki Sho winner Efforia in a fierce race and came out on top of his generation.
Shahryar's seasonal debut this autumn was at the Kobe Shimbun Hai (G2). Due to the heavy ground he ran out of stamina midway through and, unable to accelerate down the stretch he suffered a loss, finishing fourth. After that race he was sent to Northern Farm Shigaraki for a break, but returned to his stable on October 19, four days after his entry in the Japan Cup was announced.
Assistant trainer Nobuyuki Tashiro expects a turnaround, commenting, "the previous race was about the horse's compatibility with the ground. He raced once after the break and seems to be getting better.”
Tashiro added: “He has improved a lot with the hard training, and we are looking forward to seeing his next race. It's the same track where he won the Derby. With good ground conditions, he should be able to perform better."
On November 3, Shahryar ran six furlongs in 89.4 seconds on a woodchip flat course in his first recorded run after returning to his stable. His final workout one week before the race was alongside stablemates on a woodchip flat course. Appearing for the 7 a.m. opening of the gates, he ran six furlongs in 83.3 seconds and the last furlong in 11.7 seconds, showing sharp acceleration and outrunning 5-year-old Tosen Sky by a length.
Trainer Hideaki Fujiwara said, “He is moving well. His last run in the Kobe Shimbun Hai was a little unexpected, and you can tell from his run in the following Kikuka Sho that it was a tough race. His maintenance has been difficult but the race was worth it. It helped both his physical strength and movement. You can never tell the mental condition of a horse until the race starts, but with the right conditions, he should do well."
Shahryar will be once again guided by jockey Yuga Kawada, the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf champion who will drive the Derby winner to his full power.
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Author: Yonosuke Watanabe
(This article was first published by Weekly Gallop on November 21, 2021, in Japanese.)