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Horse Racing

Stellenbosch Triumphs in the Oka Sho to Kick Off the Fillies' Triple Crown

Storming down the home straight, Stellenbosch held off Light Back to claim victory in the Oka Sho, giving trainer Sakae Kunieda his 22nd JRA G1 win.

Second favorite Stellenbosch used her signature late speed to win the 84th Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) in her 3-year-old debut on Sunday, April 7. In doing so, she scored her first Grade 1 triumph at Hanshin Racecourse.

After breaking her maiden in her debut start in July 2023 (Sapporo, 1,800 meters), she was a close second in the Saffron Sho (Nakayama, 1 Win Class, 1,600 meters) in October before notching her second win in the Akamatsu Sho (Tokyo, 1 Win Class, 1,600 meters) in November. 

The filly went on to finish a neck's length behind winner Ascoli Piceno in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies (Hanshin, G1, 1,600 meters) the next month. 

On Sunday, trainer Sakae Kunieda took home his 22nd Japan Racing Association G1 title, his first since the 2021 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies with Circle of Life. It was Kunieda's third Oka Sho victory. His first was with Apapane (Masayoshi Ebina) in 2010 and then with Almond Eye (Christophe Lemaire) in 2018. 

For Brazilian jockey Joao Moreira, who is riding in Japan under a short-term license, this was his second G1 victory. He also triumphed in the 2018 Queen Elizabeth II Cup with Lys Gracieux.

Oka Sho
The 84th running of the Oka Sho. (©SANKEI)

How the Oka Sho Unfolded

In Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, before an announced crowd of 34,233, Stellenbosch was a touch late out of stall 12. She settled a half-length behind rival Ascoli Piceno, ridden by Hiroshi Kitamura, in mid-pack while the field was led by Shonan Manuela (Yasunari Iwata). 

Making a wide move into the lane, the daughter of Epiphaneia slipped in front of Ascoli Piceno. And with a good turn of foot, Stellenbosch stormed down the straight pinning the brief leader Etes Vous Prets (Katsuma Sameshima) running on the rails in the last 100 meters.

Stellenbosch then held off the tenacious race favorite and hard-closing Light Back (Ryusei Sakai). (Watch the race on the JRA's YouTube channel.) 

Oka Sho
Jockey Joao Moreira reacts after winning the 84th Oka Sho. (©SANKEI)

"She didn't jump very well but she did nothing wrong during the race — she was very impressive," Moreira said of Stellenbosch in his post-race interview. "When we were approaching the home turn, we were trapped but as we passed by the 500-meter marker, we were able to split horses."

The winning jockey added, "She went up front a little bit too early and I was worried she couldn't sustain her speed all the way to the end. But as all good horses [do], she has proved to be capable and has given me my second G1 win in Japan, which will be in my heart forever." 

Oka Sho
Stellenbosch closes in on a victory in the 1,600-meter Oka Sho. (©SANKEI)

Ascoli Piceno Falls Short in Oka Sho Bid

2023 Best Two-Year-Old Filly and race favorite Ascoli Piceno took a wide trip in mid-pack. She entered the stretch a beat behind the eventual winner and strived to keep up. But she finished second 3/4 lengths behind while fending off the late charge by Light Back. 

Sent off as the seventh pick, Light Back was eased back to settle second from the rear. And after circling wide into the stretch, she launched the fastest late drive (32.8 seconds over the last three furlongs) but had too much ground to cover. She finished a neck behind the runner-up in third.

Sixth favorite Sweep Feet (Yutaka Take) was fourth, followed by Etes Vous Prets in the 18-horse field.

Third favorite Queen's Walk, guided by Yuga Kawada, placed eighth.

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A Look Ahead

The Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) is next up on the JRA's G1 calendar on Sunday, April 14 at Nakayama Racecourse in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture.

Read the full report with details on each of the Oka Sho entrants on JRA News.

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Author: JRA News

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