Last week’s Gr.1 Osaka Hai saw the field’s only females top the field for a one-two finish. On Sunday, 18 of Japan’s finest 3YO fillies take on the 80th running of the Gr.1 Oka Sho.
Following is a look at the expected top picks.
Resistencia - The Daiwa Major-sired Resistencia, unbeaten in her three starts last year, is clearly a force to be reckoned with. She capped 2019 with a wire-to-wire win of the Gr.1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies (1,600, Hanshin) and won the unanimous vote for Best Two-Year-Old Filly of the year. In March, the big Ritto-based bay returned from three months off for the Gr.2 Tulip Sho (1,600, Hanshin) and taking a more leisurely lead suffered her first loss, a third-place finish 0.2 seconds behind winner Maltese Diosa and a nose behind runnerup Cravache d’Or. The last Juvenile Fillies champion to win the Oka Sho was Apapane in 2010. In the saddle is expected to be Yutaka Take, who rode Resistencia’s debut and has won the Oka Sho for five times, the most of any jockey currently riding.
Maltese Diosa - Runnerup in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies and winner of the Tulip Sho last out March 7 is Maltese Diosa, one of the first crops from Kizuna, the 2013 Japanese Derby champion and a son of Deep Impact. Mile specialist Maltese Diosa scored three wins and two seconds from five starts, all over 1,600 meters. Her win of the Tulip Sho (her first graded-stakes victory) was only by a nose, but breaking from an outside gate, she received strong marks for a solid race. Miho-based trainer Takahisa Tezuka kept the filly at Ritto following the Tulip Sho, which means she’ll be saved the long trip to the track. She has been getting long workouts, good times, and is expected to go to the gate in good form.
Ria Amelia - Deep Impact progeny swept the 2011-2014 runnings of the Oka Sho and won again last year. The Ritto-based Ria Amelia is among the late champion’s daughters considered to have a good shot at the winner’s circle. A big dark bay filly weighing in at over 480 kg, Ria Amelia has only had three career starts, all over the mile. Following her debut win, she scooped the Gr.3 Artemis Stakes at Tokyo, then disappointed as the favourite in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies when she finished sixth.
Daring Tact - The Epiphaneia-sired Daring Tact debuted in November last year and has only two starts behind her, both wins and both over the mile. The trainer Haruki Sugiyama is jumping her from a listed race to the big time after, in the Elfin Stakes at Kyoto Feb. 8, he saw her top-class acceleration, a late speed that took her from 10 off the front at the turn to the front with 100 meters to go and over the finish line in first by a 4-length margin. The longer stretch of Hanshin should be a plus. Only two horses before her have won the Oka Sho on their third start, the last being Hagino Top Lady in 1980.
Cravache d’Or - A daughter of Heart’s Cry, the Ritto-based Cravache d’Or has made the top three finishes in all of her four starts thus far, three of them at Hanshin. Raced exclusively over 1,600 meters, Cravache d’Or has run in three graded-stakes events and though she has come close has yet to win one. Second in the Saudi Arabia Royal Cup and third in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies, she missed the Tulip Sho by a nose last out under Mirco Demuro, who is expected to have the ride on Sunday.
Miyamazakura - A grey filly by Deep Impact, Miyamazakura has had four starts thus far, and from the two wins and a second. Previously given distances in the 1,800-2,000 range, she was raced at the mile for the first time last out in the Gr.3 Daily Hai Queen Cup at Tokyo and won, topping Magic Castle by a neck.
Magic Castle - Magic Castle is by Deep Impact and, weighing just 430 kg the last start, is one of the smallest fillies of the field. Based at the Miho stable of Sakae Kunieda, she has one win and three seconds from four starts, two of them Gr.3s. In November she ran second in the Gr.3 KBS Fantasy Stakes at Kyoto and last out was second to Miyamazakura in the Queen Cup. Travelling on the outside she entered the stretch toward the rear of the field and, turning in the race top time over the final three furlongs of 33.4 seconds, just missed the win. She is in good condition and not one to overlook.
Sanctuaire - Another Miho-based Deep Impact filly to watch is Sanctuaire. She hails from the stable of Kazuo Fujisawa, who fielded last year’s Oka Sho winner Gran Alegria and she has only three starts to present. Unlike most of the other fillies in the Oka Sho lineup, Sanctuaire has not only competed against male horses, but she has also won against them, specifically in her last start, the Gr.3 Shinzan Kinen at Kyoto on Jan. 12. Her two previous starts, both over the mile were run to the left, her winning debut at Niigata and a second in the Artemis Stakes at Tokyo.
The first classic of the year, Oka Sho carries a purse of nearly JPY227 million and is the first leg of the filly triple crown. The Oka Sho record was rewritten by Gran Alegria last year and stands at 1 minute 32.7 seconds.
Race Info: Distance: 1600 meters, Surface: Turf, Track: Right-handed (outer course), Qualification 3-y-o , Fillies, Weight: 55 kg,Purse: ¥ 168,900,000 (as of 2015), 1st: ¥ 89,000,000