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Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) Preview: For Many Entrants, It's Their First 2,400-Meter Race

Five race favorites triumphed in the Grade 1 Yushun Himba during the previous 10 years, including Liberty Island in 2023, at Tokyo Racecourse.

The third of five Japanese Classic races of 2024 is set for Sunday, May 19, when the Grade 1 Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) will be run at Tokyo Racecourse. It follows April's Oka Sho and Satsuki Sho

This race for 3-year-old fillies is run over 2,400 meters on the turf track at the course, and it will be the first time for many of them to attempt the mile-and-a-half distance of the race.

First held in 1938, the Yushun Himba was originally run in the autumn at Hanshin Racecourse over a longer distance. Switching to Tokyo in 1946, it was first run in the spring over 2,400 meters. It has been held in Tokyo ever since then. 

Foreign-bred horses were permitted to run in 2003, and the race became an international Grade 1 in 2010.

Recent big-name winners of the race have included Almond Eye (2018), Loves Only You (2019), Daring Tact (2020), and in 2023, Liberty Island

There are 18 fillies nominated for the 85th running of the Yushun Himba, which has a maximum field size of 18.

A couple of lead-up races to Sunday's big race included the Grade 3 Flower Cup, run over 1,800 meters at Nakayama in March, and the Grade 2 Sankei Sports Sho Flora Stakes (an official Oaks trial), run over 2,000 meters at Tokyo in April.

Yushun Himba
Liberty Island wins the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) on May 21, 2023, at Tokyo Racecourse. (ⒸSANKEI)

Pertinent Facts About the Yushun Himba

All the fillies carry a set weight of 55 kg, and there's a ¥150 million JPY (around $960,000 USD) first-place check for the winner, out of a total prize money of ¥325 million ($2 million). 

First favorites have a fair record in the race, with five winning in the past 10 years. Liberty Island was the most recent when she was sent off as a very strong favorite in 2023. 

Loves Only You set the record for the race when she produced a time of 2 minutes, 22.8 seconds in 2019.

The 85th Grade 1 Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) will be race 11 on the Sunday card at Tokyo, with a post time locally of 3:40 PM. 

Here's a look at some of this year's top fillies expected to take on the race.

Yushun Himba
Stellenbosch wins the Grade 1 Oka Sho on April 7 at Hanshin Racecourse. (©SANKEI)

Stellenbosch Looks to Produce More of the Same

Finishing in the top two in five starts, including three wins, the Epiphaneia-sired filly Stellenbosch's big win came in the Grade 1 Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) on April 7. As with so many of the other runners, it'll be her first time to race beyond 1,800 meters. But she could have what it takes to see out the distance this time. 

Trainer Sakae Kunieda commented: "She didn't get a good position from the start last time, but the jockey (Joao Moreira) did a great job to get her into the race, and she finished well to win with a bit in hand."

The trainer added, "She's had her usual break at Northern Farm Tenei, and she's returned to the stable refreshed. [And] she weighed a little less for her last race, but the warmer weather is the reason for that." 

Jockey Keita Tosaki has been booked this time for the ride on Stellenbosch.

Yushun Himba
Sweep Feet wins the Grade 2 Tulip Sho on March 2 at Hanshin Racecourse. (KYODO)

It's just a shoe!

Sweep Feet Has Had Solid Results Lately

Something of a bargain at the 2022 Hokkaido Summer Sale, Suave Richard progeny Sweep Feet must be pleasing her connections with the prize money she has secured so far. She had plenty of racing as a 2-year-old, and this year she won the Grade 2 Tulip Sho at Hanshin on March 2. Then she went on to finish a close fourth to Stellenbosch in the Grade 1 Oka Sho. 

"She went to the farm after her last race and returned to the stable at the end of April," trainer Yasushi Shono said before adding, "She recovered quickly from her last run, and she was seen at her best in the Tulip Sho."

Shono continued: "This next race is at Tokyo, and she'll have to transport over for it, so she won't need such strong work in training. We'll just monitor her condition as we see things." 

For Sweep Feet, the Yushun Himba will be her first race longer than a mile. 

Jockey Yutaka Take, who collected his 4,500th JRA win over the weekend of May 10-12, rides the filly, and he's won the Japanese Oaks three times (1993, '95 and '96).

Yushun Himba
Admire Belle exercises on May 8 in Miho, Ibaraki Prefecture. (©SANKEI)

Admire Belle Returns to a Familiar Venue

Another filly by Suave Richard, Admire Belle has raced three times at Tokyo over 2,000 meters — including a win in the Grade 2 Sankei Sports Sho Flora Stakes on April 21 — so she might be able to see out the extra 400 meters at the track better than some of the other runners. 

"The race worked out perfectly for her last time, by getting a good position in behind the leaders and biding her time," said trainer Yukihiro Kato. 

"She found a good rhythm and completed the first five furlongs in about 60 seconds, and was then able to finish off strongly. On that run, the Oaks looks good for her."

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

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Author: JRA News

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