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Horse Racing

Titleholder Chasing Glory at Star-Studded Takarazuka Kinen

His last performance and second G1 victory, the 3,200-meter Tenno Sho (Spring), was a masterpiece. Will the fan favorite repeat the feat of winning this time?

Titleholder works out at Miho Training Center in Ibaraki Prefecture on June 2. (Takaaki Shioura/ⒸSANKEI)

The Takarazuka Kinen on Sunday, June 26, will be a spectacular Grand Prix race featuring five Grade 1-winning horses.

Headlining the field in the 2,200-meter event at Hanshin Racecourse is Titleholder, winner of the Tenno Sho (Spring) on May 1.

For the 63rd running of the Takarazuka Kinen, Titleholder received the most votes (191,394) in the history of fan balloting. 

Efforia, the second favorite in the fan vote, won three G1 races last year and was named the 2021 Japan Racing Association Horse of the Year. 

Daring Tact, the 2020 Fillies Triple Crown winner, returns from a 13-month injury layoff in her last race, the Victoria Mile, and aims to win again for the first time since the Shuka Sho in October 2020. 

Potager was the winner of his previous race, the Osaka Hai, on April 3. 

In a dead heat with Lord North, Panthalassa shared victory in the Dubai Turf, a thrilling G1 event on March 26 at Meydan Racecourse in the United Arab Emirates.

Sunday’s Takarazuka Kinen will be contested by 18 horses (ages 3 and older), the maximum number possible.

This story was first published in Japanese on June 20, 2022, by our media partner Shukan Gallop, a weekly magazine specializing in horse racing under the umbrella of The Sankei Shimbun Co. 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 Shukan Gallop as we share some of the backstory on Titleholder and other top contenders in Japanese horse racing today. 

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Titleholder Pursues Dream

Running with a big dream on his back, Titleholder, the No. 1 fan favorite, heads to this summer’s Grand Prix with an eye on making the leap overseas.

Titleholder’s performance in his last race and second G1 victory, the 3,200-meter Tenno Sho (Spring) on May 1, was a masterpiece. 

With Kazuo Yokoyama handling the reins, he pushed ahead from the outer gate (No. 16) and broke away from the rest of the pack, slowed down before the first turn of the second lap to save energy, and picked up the pace before the third turn. He was able to hold his lead well into the fourth turn. Meanwhile, the rest of the field was catching up to the horses directly behind him. 

Then, he showed off his strong legs in the next stretch to pull away from the rest of the horses by seven lengths.

“I knew he would be in tune with the jockey, and they were running at a good pace,” trainer Toru Kurita said, giving high marks to the winner. “I was worried about having a riderless horse in the straight, but the jockey handled it well, and I think it was a strong performance.”

In Titleholder’s five career wins, he has led from the start, including the 82nd Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger, G1) in October 2021, by five lengths. 

The 4-year-old’s front-running strategy, which utilizes his exceptional endurance, has made him the undisputed king of long distance. 

After grazing out in the pasture during the interim period, Titleholder returned to the stables on June 1. 

“I think his condition, both physically and emotionally, is even better than when he returned to the stables for the Tenno Sho. Before the last race, it was more like putting pressure on him while also keeping his feelings under control. But this time it’s just fine-tuning,” said the trainer, emphasizing the further improvement of the horse.

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Training Before the Takarazuka Kinen

Titleholder’s workout one week before the race on June 16 was on a woodchip flat course at Miho Training Center in Ibaraki Prefecture. He breezed along with Yokoyama on his back, who came to the track from Hakodate, Hokkaido Prefecture. With his stablemates at some distance in front of and behind him, Titleholder ran six furlongs (about 1,200 meters) in 80.9 seconds, including the last furlong in 11.9 seconds. 

“With an actual race in mind, we put horses in front of and behind him to see what kind of pace he could run at, feeling the pressure of the horses behind him. He was very patient and consistent,” Kurita said. 

The trainer indicated his satisfaction with the final adjustments, commenting, “The jockey also said the horse’s touch on the ground in the middle of the course was much better than in the previous race. Looking at the clock, I think we were able to put good pressure on him.”

Analyzing Titleholder’s Challenge

Indeed, Titleholder has had success at Hanshin Racecourse, winning the Kikuka Sho (3,000 meters) and the Tenno Sho (Spring). But this race’s shortened distance and the presence of horses of the same caliber will be key factors this time.

He was beaten in the Satsuki Sho (finishing second), the Tokyo Yushun, aka Japanese Derby (sixth place), and Arima Kinen (fifth) by Efforia, a three-time G1 winner who has been running mainly in the middle-distance category. 

“He has lost three times in three races, so we will see how much we can close the gap,” said the trainer, indicating his strong determination as a challenger. 

As for Panthalassa, who won the Dubai Turf by leading the pack the whole way, he expressed his caution, saying, “The worst thing that could happen is for the two horses to run ahead together, or for them to be too reserved and run too slow, and end up in a sprint race at the end.” 

However, he added, “I’m sure the jockey will be flexible in guiding the horse while keeping an eye on the pace. The best thing to do is not to be too assumptive,” expressing the team’s intention to let the horse run the race at his own pace.

A Grateful Trainer

Noting Titleholder’s aforementioned 191,394 fan votes, which surpassed Oguri Cap’s 152,016 votes in 1990, Kurita expressed sincere appreciation for the public’s backing. 

“I am grateful for the support of so many people, and I also feel a great sense of responsibility. I intend to send him off in the best possible condition,” said Kurita, expressing high expectations for the race.

“However, as always, I will continue to just stay close to the horse and prepare him. I hope that he will maintain his current good condition and achieve good results.”

Depending on the results, a challenge for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe may be on the horizon in the fall. After conquering the domestic races, we eagerly await to see him run in France ― holding a new title. 

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Author: Tomoharu Chiba 

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