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Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) Preview: A Once-in-a-Lifetime Event for 18 Horses

The 90th Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) runs on May 28. Since its debut in 1932, the 2,400-meter race has been the pinnacle for 3-year-old colts and fillies.

The big action continues at Tokyo Racecourse with the running of the Tokyo Yushun ― more commonly known as the Derby, the Japanese Derby ― on Sunday, May 28. 

It is the second race in the series of three known as the Triple Crown. And with Sol Oriens, the April 16 winner of the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas), the series' first race, expected to be in the gate Sunday, the second jewel in his crown is on the line.

2023 marks the 90th year of the Japanese Derby. And this pinnacle of racing for 3-year-old colts and fillies is held over what is called the "classic distance" of 2,400 meters. 

Of the thousands of thoroughbreds born each year (over 7,700 were born in Japan in 2020, the birth year of this year's Derby hopefuls), only 18 will have a chance at this once-in-a-lifetime event. 

Nineteen colts have been nominated to participate for a share of the purse of nearly ¥650 million JPY ($4.64 million USD) and a shot at the first-place prize of ¥300 million JPY ($2.14 million USD). Eighteen of those colts should enter the gate at 3:40 PM on Sunday and test their mettle against many others they will compete against for the first time.

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Stable Requirements Before the Tokyo Yushun

Racehorses participating in Japan Racing Association events must be stabled (at least for a period prior to a race) at either one of the two training centers, Ritto in Shiga Prefecture in the west and Miho in Ibaraki Prefecture in the east. The past five Japanese Derby winners have all hailed from Ritto. 

This year, for the first time in 34 years, Miho horses outnumber those from Ritto. And, more noteworthy, three of the four expected to be the top choices ― Sol Oriens, Skilfing, Phantom Thief and Tastiera ― hail from the Miho Training Center.

Tokyo Racecourse, located in western Tokyo's town of Fuchu, is considered to be one of the fairest, yet the toughest of the JRA tracks. The Tokyo 2,400, which ends after a grueling upward slope down the longest homestretch in Japan, is above all, a true test of overall ability. 

To land the Derby you have to be fast and you have to be good. And, as all Japanese horsemen will tell you, you also have to be lucky.

Here's a look at some of the expected popular Derby choices.

Sol Oriens, ridden by Takeshi Yokoyama, wins the 83rd Satsuki Sho on April 16 at Nakayama Racecourse in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture. (ⒸSANKEI)

Sol Oriens Carries an Unbeaten Record into the Tokyo Yushun

With only three starts to his name, Sol Oriens, a son of seven-time G1 champion Kitasan Black, remains unbeaten. After a debut over the Tokyo 1,800 meters, he leapt to a Grade 3 win over the Nakayama 2,000 meters, then claimed the Satsuki Sho at the same venue and distance. 

In the latter, he also prevailed despite the heavy going. A versatile runner, Sol Oriens, which is Latin for "Rising Sun," has been successful racing close to the pace, as well as far off it. 

If he can win on Sunday, he will become the 20th horse in the Derby's history to do so unbeaten. Expected up will be Takeshi Yokoyama, who has ridden Sol Oriens' last two starts. He's the youngest of the three Yokoyamas scheduled to have rides in the Derby (father Norihiro on Top Knife, brother Kazuo on Bellagio Opera). The 23-year-old Takeshi will have his second chance to pilot an unbeaten Satsuki Sho champion in the Derby. 

In 2021, he failed to bring the unbeaten Efforia home a winner, missing first place by a mere nose. There is something more than a Derby win on the line for trainer Takahisa Tezuka as well.

If he can win the Derby, a feat that has eluded him in his previous three attempts, Tezuka will become the fifth trainer in Japanese racing history and the first in 61 years to capture the five competitions for 3-year-olds known as the "classic races." 

Christophe Lemaire guides Skilfing to victory in the Grade 2 TV Tokyo Hai Aoba Sho on April 29 at Tokyo Racecourse. (ⒸSANKEI)

It's just a shoe!

Skilfing Owns a Three-Race Winning Streak

Seen as perhaps the biggest threat to Sol Oriens is Skilfing, whose name hails from Norse mythology. Another name for the powerful god Odin, Skilfing means "the shaker" and this colt shares with Sol Oriens, Kitasan Black as his sire. Hailing from the Miho barn of Tetsuya Kimura, Skilfing has only been raced at Tokyo. 

Second in his debut, he owns a three-race winning streak, his most recent race the Derby trial Aoba Sho, a Grade 2 run this year on April 29. It was Skilfing's second win over the Tokyo 2,400. Chronically slow away, his late speed has stood him well. 

Most likely the heaviest colt in the lineup on race day, Skilfing's weight has remained a steady 524 kg for all his starts. The big question is whether he can shake off the jinx that "no Aoba Sho winner has ever won the Derby."

Tokyo Yushun entrant Tastiera exercises on May 24 in Miho, Ibaraki Prefecture. (KYODO)

Tastiera Has a Track Record of Success

Runner-up in the Satsuki Sho, Tastiera, a son of new stallion Satono Crown (third in the 2015 Derby), has only missed the top three once in his four starts to date. From a winning debut at Tokyo, Tastiera stepped into graded competition to finish fourth in the Grade 3 Kyodo News Hai (Tokyo, 1,800 meters), followed by a tight turnaround and a win in the Grade 2 Yayoi Sho (Nakayama, 2,000 meters) in March. 

The following month he finished in second, 1¼ lengths behind Sol Oriens in the Satsuki Sho over the Nakayama 2,000 meters. Hailing from the Miho stable of Noriyuki Hori, Tastiera will have the home advantage and his keen racing sense should serve him over the extra distance (his longest by 2 furlongs). 

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


Author: JRA News


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