Breeders’ Cup Turf Slot Up For Grabs In Japan’s Takarazuka Kinen

Led by multiple Group 1 stakes-winning mare Lucky Lilac (JPN) and last year’s Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) (G1) winner Saturnalia (JPN), a field of 18 has been entered for Sunday’s US$3-million, 1 3/8-mile Takarazuka Kinen (G1) at Hanshin Racecourse. The winner of Sunday’s race will receive an automatic berth and fees paid into the $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) through the international Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series.

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge is an international series of stakes races whose winners receive automatic starting positions and fees paid into a corresponding race of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which is scheduled to be held at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky., on Nov. 6-7.

As part of the benefits of the Challenge Series, Breeders’ Cup will pay the entry fees for the Takarazuka Kinen winner to start in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf, which will be run at 1 1/2 miles over the Keeneland turf course. Breeders’ Cup also will provide a travel allowance of US$40,000 for all starters based outside of North America to compete in the World Championships.

The Takarazuka Kinen, the fourth Breeders’ Cup Challenge race to be held in Japan this year, will be run in a clockwise direction. The race will be televised live on TVG at 11:40 p.m. PT on Saturday.

Sunday Racing Co.’s 5-year-old Lucky Lilac, trained by Mikio Matsunaga and ridden by Mirco Demuro, has finished in the top three in her last five starts. She comes into the race off a hard-fought win over the 4-year-old filly Chrono Genesis (JPN), also owned by Sunday Racing, in the 1 1/4-mile Osaka Hai (G1) on April 5 at Hanshin. Blocked in deep stretch, Lucky Lilac finally found room moving off the rail in the last 50 yards to prevail by a neck.

The Osaka Hai was the third Group 1 win for the chestnut daughter of 2011 Japanese Triple Crown winner and 2012 Takarazuka Kinen winner Orfevre (JPN). Lucky Lilac’s dam, Lilacs and Lace, won the 2011 Central Bank Ashland Stakes (G1) at Keeneland, and her broodmare sire, Flower Alley, won the 2005 Travers Stakes (G1). Last November, Lucky Lilac won the Queen Elizabeth Cup (G1) at Kyoto, and as a 2-year-old in 2017, she won her initial Group 1 in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies.

Following her Queen Elizabeth Cup victory, Lucky Lilac was sent to Hong Kong for the 1 1/2-mile Longines Hong Kong Vase (G1) on Dec. 8 at Sha Tin, where she finished second to Glory Vase (JPN). In her first start this year on March 1, Lucky Lilac finished second by 1 ¾ lengths to Danon Kingly (JPN) in the 1 1/8-mile Nakayama Kinen (G2).

“After her last race, she went to Northern Farm Shigaraki, and although restrictions on movement meant I wasn’t able to check on her, she has come back looking really well,” Matsunaga said to JRA.com. “Her movement is good, and she has filled out in a way that really makes her look bigger and stronger.”

Carrot Farm’s 4-year-old Saturnalia, trained by Katsuhiko Sumii, was the 2019 Japanese Male 3-year-old Champion. He sports a consistent mark of six wins in nine starts, highlighted by last year’s victory in the 1 1/4-mile Satsuki Sho at Nakayama. He was favored at 3-5 in the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) (G1) in his next start, but wound up fourth. He returned to his winning ways in September over the firm ground at Hanshin, scoring a three-length win in the 1 1/2-mile Kobe Shimbun Hai (G2). Saturnalia took on the best older runners in his final two starts last year, finishing sixth behind Almond Eye (JPN) in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) (G1) on Oct. 26, but improved next time out on Dec. 22 with a second-place finish behind Lys Gracieux (JPN) in the Arima Kinen (The Grand Prix) (G1).

Saturnalia began 2020 in good form, winning the 1 1/4-mile Kinko Sho (G2) at Chukyo on March 15 as the odds-on favorite. Assistant trainer Takashi Kotaki said, “He was helped last time by the lack of noise due to no spectators, and everything went smoothly in the preliminaries. He adjusted well to the slow pace of the race, and ran as a comfortable winner. He’s been at the farm since, but on his return to the stable, he’s been his usual self as he prepares for this race.”

Chrono Genesis’ second-place finish to Lucky Lilac in the Osaka Hai came after the 4-year-old filly by Bago (FR) won her seasonal debut against open company in the 1 3/8-mile Kyoto Kinen (G2) over a yielding course on Feb. 16.

“Last time she drew a wide gate, but quickly got into a position where she settled into stride well,” said trainer Takashi Saito regarding the Osaka Hai. “She finished second in the end, but showed her ability, which has definitely improved as she’s gotten older.”

Chrono Genesis, ridden by Yuichi Kitamura, has won five of 10 starts, including the 1 ¼-mile Shuka Sho (G1) at Kyoto last October against fillies. In her first race against older fillies and mares, she finished fifth behind Lucky Lilac in the Queen Elizabeth to close out her 2019 season.

Silk Racing Co’s 5-year-old Blast Onepiece (JPN), is another starter coming out of the Osaka Hai, in which he finished seventh. The performance continued a recent inconsistent pattern for the bay son of Harbinger (GB), who won the 2018 Group 1 Amira Kinen. Prior to the Osaka Hai, Blast Onepiece, trained by Masahiro Otake and ridden by Yuga Kawada, opened 2020 with a 1 1/4-length victory as the favorite in the 1 3/8-mile American Jockey Club Cup (G2) at Nakayama.

Going back to August, Blast Onepiece won the 1 1/4-mile Sapporo Kinen (G2), and preparations were made to start him next in the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) at ParisLongchamp. He raced in mid-pack in the Arc, but could not sustain a drive in the final three furlongs, and wound up 11th of 12 runners.

Silk Racing also has entered the 5-year-old Glory Vase, a dark bay son of Deep Impact (JPN), who will be making his first start since his 3 ½-length triumph in the Hong Kong Vase over Lucky Lilac. Glory Vase, trained by Tomohito Ozeki and ridden by Damian Lane, has won four of 10 starts, which includes last year’s 1 1/2-mile Nikkei Shinshun Hai (G2) at Kyoto. Sunday’s race will be his first start at Hanshin.

Also of interest is Tatsue Ishikawa’s 6-year-old Kiseki (JPN), who was second in last year’s race as the 5-2 favorite, finishing three lengths behind Lys Gracieux. Trained by Katsuhiko Sumii, Kiseki, a dark bay son of Rulership (JPN) out of the Deep Impact mare Blitz Finale (JPN), was sent to France last fall, where he finished third in the Qatar Prix Foy (G2) at ParisLongchamp and was seventh in the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Kiseki comes into this year’s race off a sixth-place finish in the about two-mile Tenno Sho (Spring) (G1) at Kyoto, leading the race into the stretch before giving way. Yutaka Take, who has won the race four times, including aboard Deep Impact in 2006, has the mount on Sunday.

In the three prior Breeders’ Cup Challenge races in Japan earlier this year, the 6-year-old Mozu Ascot won the February Stakes (G1) on Feb. 23 and earned an automatic berth into the $7-million Breeders’ Cup Classic; the 5-year-old mare Almond Eye (JPN) won the Victoria Mile (G1) on May 17 and secured a free starting position into the Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) and the 4-year-old filly Gran Alegria (JPN) took the Yasuda Kinen (G1) at Tokyo Race Course on June 7 and a “Win and You’re In” spot for the TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1).

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