Japan Cup winner Kitasan Black in action
Bob Kieckhefer’s bi-weekly roundup of major turf action:
Sunday’s Group 1 Takarazuka Kinen, like the Arima Kinen in December, gives fans a chance to vote which horses they’d most like to see run. This year, many of them find their wishes granted as the prospective field of 11 includes a bunch of Japan’s top runners. The race is worth about US$2.8 million, with US$1.3 million to the winner. Oh, and by the way, the 2,200 meters run right-handed around the Hanshin grass is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge race with the winner earning a berth in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf this fall at Del Mar.
The field is headed by Kitasan Black, the Japan Cup winner (see photo above from Japan Racing Association’s website). The son of Black Tide is in prime form but cuts back from the marathon distance of the Tenno Sho (Spring) for this, with Yutaka Take named to ride. Three other Group 1 winners — 2015 Arima Kinen winner Gold Actor, last December’s Longines Hong Kong Vase winner Satono Crown and Japanese Oaks winner Mikki Queen — will be lined up amongst the opposition. Of the others, Cheval Grand could be poised for a breakthrough after several close finishes.
The first two days of the five-day Royal meeting were run under brutally hot and sunny conditions — so extreme for England that gentlemen — gasp! — were given permission to shed their jackets and Her Majesty the Queen dispensed with her stylish coat after the carriage deposited her at the Royal Enclosure.
The racing was equally hot.
On Tuesday, American star Lady Aurelia was an easy winner for the second straight year at Royal Ascot. The Wesley Ward-trained filly kicked away from a top field to win the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes by 3 lengths over the favorite, Marsha. Last year, the superstar won the Grade II Queen Mary Stakes by 7 lengths in just her second career start. The King’s Stand is a leg of the Global Sprint Challenge, so let’s see if Ward and his owners are sporting enough to pursue that US$1 million bonus to Hong Kong and either Japan or Australia.
Tuesday’s other features found one of the week’s best bets, Ribchester, landing the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes as American hopes Miss Temple City and American Patriot made no impression, and Barney Roy upset the Group 1 St James’s Palace Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 mile, defeating Lancaster Bomber and Thunder Snow as the favorite, Churchill, didn’t fire.
Day two found globetrotting Highland Reel victorious in the Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes, turning back a challenge in deep stretch by both Decorated Knight and Ulysses. The reigning Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf champion could be a return candidate for the Group 1 Cox Plate in Australia this fall — a race in which he was third behind the mighty Aussie mare Winx two year ago as a still-developing 3-year-old.
Thursday’s Day Three produced more moderate temperatures. With overnight watering and some cloud cover, the ground was less rock-solid, jackets stayed on and ladies left their early-week essential parasols at home.
The massive crowd also enjoyed what’s sure to be one of the year’s best races anywhere as Big Orange, with James Doyle deputizing for the injured Frankie Dettori, held off a desperate late charge by last year’s winner, Order Of St George, to win by the narrowest of margins. Doyle said he and Dettori compared notes by phone in the days leading up to the race and Dettori gave him the secret to Big Orange: “Don’t interfere with him.” Doyle heeded the advice and let the 6-year-old Duke of Marmalade gelding run to the lead after the first time past the judge. He got a break up the hill from Swinley Bottom just as order Of St George was having to make up lost ground and that difference counted at the end of the 2 1/2 miles.
In the day’s other big races, the fifth-place finishers from both the Investec Derby and the Investec Oaks came back winners. Coronet overcame plenty of traffic in the lane to land the Group 2 Ribblesdale while Benbatl held off Orderofthegarter in the final strides to win the Group 3 Hampton Court.
Action continues through Saturday at the Royal meeting.