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Victoria Mile Preview: The Spotlight Shines on Formidable Runners Namur, Masked Diva and Umbrail

The Victoria Mile, now in its 19th running in 2024, is the only Japan Racing Association Grade 1 race open only to fillies and mares ages 4 and up.

Alongside May's three 3-year-old top-level events at Tokyo Racecourse, there is the Grade 1 Victoria Mile, a distaff race that showcases older horses. 

The 19th running of the 1,600-meter turf competition on Sunday, May 12 is the only Japan Racing Association Grade 1 solely for females that excludes 3-year-olds. It is open only to those fillies and mares ages 4 years old and up.

Fifteen horses, ages 4 to 6, have been nominated for the race. That is the smallest number for the race to date, but one that assures all will likely be able to compete. The nominees include two Grade 1 champions ― Namur and Stunning Rose. All will vie for a purse now topping ¥281 million JPY ($1.8 million USD), with a first-place prize of ¥130 million ($835,000).

Currently, the spotlight focuses on three runners ― Namur, returning from Dubai, Masked Diva, coming off a win in the Hanshin Himba Stakes, and Umbrail, the runner-up in the same race.

The competition is also keen in the saddle, as Christophe Lemaire and Keita Tosaki, tied with the most wins of the race (three), vie to gain the lead. Also, Yuga Kawada, Japan's current leading jockey, and Kenichi Ikezoe are chasing the one final win that will give them wins in all six of the Grade 1 distaffs. Accomplishing the feat would allow one of them to join ranks with only three other jockeys in Japan's racing history ― Yutaka Take, Masayoshi Ebina, and Lemaire.

Victoria Mile: A Difficult Race to Prognosticate

The Victoria Mile has proven itself an especially hard race to pick. Over the past decade, though longshots have never won and double-digits outsiders have only appeared in the top three twice (both in third place), the favorite has only won the race two times and finished second twice.

Though there are a couple of exceptions, the top-three finishers in the Victoria Mile over the last decade have largely raced in either the Grade 2 Hanshin Himba Stakes over 1,600 meters at Hanshin, immediately before the Victoria Mile, or one of the Grade 1 events earlier in the year, or the previous year's Arima Kinen (the Grand Prix). 

Victoria Mile
Songline earns a narrow victory over Sodashi in the 18th Victoria Mile on May 14, 2023, at Tokyo Racecourse. (KYODO)

The 2023 Victoria Mile winner Songline surprised onlookers coming off a run in the Grade 3 1351 Turf Sprint at Riyadh. And the growing number of Japanese horses competing in Saudi Arabia and Dubai earlier in the year could possibly indicate a new trend.

The Victoria Mile starts at the top of the backstretch, with 500 meters to the first turn. Halfway down the backstretch, a downward slope reverses sharply, then drops again around the bend. Runners hit the final hill with 450 meters to go, giving rise to Tokyo's reputation as Japan's hardest test of overall strength.

All runners carry 56 kg. The race is the 11th on the Tokyo card of 12 and post time is 3:40 PM.

Here's a look at some of the expected contenders.

Victoria Mile
Masked Diva works out on May 8 at the JRA Ritto Training Center in Ritto, Shiga Prefecture. (©SANKEI)

Masked Diva Brings a Track Record of Success to the Victoria Mile

A 4-year-old filly by Rulership, the Ritto-based Masked Diva is an unusual standout, having not followed the usual paths to the heights. Debuting in her 3-year-old year, she was started over 9-10 furlongs and continued at that distance for her first five races. She showed her talent early on, winning three of those five and capturing the Grade 2 Rose Stakes in record time in her fourth outing. 

That was followed with a second-place finish one length behind hotshot Liberty Island in the Grade 1 Shuka Sho in October 2023. 

Dropping in distance to the mile, she returned four months later for the Grade 3 Tokyo Shimbun Hai, her only race at Tokyo. Boasting a 10-kg gain, she missed the break, which figured largely in her sixth-place finish, but still was only beaten by males, her age and older. 

Next out she scored her second graded-stakes victory, this time under Joao Moreira in the Grade 2 Hanshin Himba Stakes. Along with Ten Happy Rose (sixth in the Hanshin Himba Stakes), she is one of two Victoria Mile nominees bred by Shadai Farm. The farm has fielded runners in the race every year since its inauguration but has failed to score another win since its three-year winning streak came to an end in 2009. 

Trainer Yasuyuki Tsujino is gunning for his first win of the race and Moreira is expected up again.

Mile Championship
Namur (16), guided by Kota Fujioka, sprints in the closing portion of the Mile Championship en route to victory on November 19, 2023. (ⒸSANKEI)

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Namur Set to Be Ridden by an 8th Different Jockey

A Harbinger-sired 5-year-old, Namur finished in seventh place here in 2023, with interference in the stretch a factor. She immediately returned in the Yasuda Kinen afterward but beat only two horses over the line in the field of 18. 

Four months later, however, she was back in form. Returning to Tokyo, she captured the Grade 2 Fuji Stakes over 1,600 meters in October 2023, then a month later won the Grade 1 Mile Championship at Kyoto. 

From there, she jetted to foreign lands, scoring a third in the Hong Kong Mile, then a second in the Dubai Turf, both top-level events.

Unlike Masked Diva, Namur is proven in mixed competition. She has gone up against the colts and horses and won or topped many of them. She has had seven different riders over her 15 outings, including three foreign-based jockeys. This time she looks to make it eight, with Take expected up for the first time. 

Namur chases her second Grade 1 win and Take his second of the Victoria Mile, following his victory with Vodka in 2009.

Read the rest of this article about the Victoria Mile and the Japanese horses in contention on JRA News.

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Author: JRA News

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