Al Ain wins the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas), first leg of the Japanese Triple Crown
Al Ain defeated a strong field of 3-year-olds that included 11 graded winners—the largest number in the history of the race—in the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas), the first leg of the 3-year-old Triple Crown, while renewing the race record set by Dee Majesty (JPN, by Deep Impact) last year by 0.1 second. The son of Deep Impact won his two starts over a mile as a 2-year-old and although beaten to sixth in his kickoff start this year in the Shinzan Kinen (G3, 1,600m) due to a disadvantage, Al Ain claimed his first graded victory in the Mainichi Hai (G3, 1,800m) just three weeks ago.
Trainer Yasutoshi Ikee, who dominated the top two positions in this race, registered his 17th JRA-G1 victory—his first since winning the year-end Arima Kinen with Satono Diamond last year—and second Satsuki Sho title since winning the race with Orfevre in 2011. Jockey Kohei Matsuyama, who debuted in 2009, captured his first JRA-G1 and classic title and his seventh graded JRA victory.
Breaking from stall 11, Al Ain rushed out to rally for the lead and eventually settled around fifth while eyeing race favorite Fan Dii Na on the inside. The son of Deep Impact was caught between horses as the field crowded in entering the homestretch, but once Matsuyama guided him through a narrow space for a clear path around the 200-meter pole, the bay unleashed a powerful drive and caught up with Persian Knight 100 meters out for a strong duel. Al Ain won by a neck margin in a final time of 1:57.8 on the firm going.
“I can’t believe we won!” said Matsuyama. “I was runner-up in two G1 races last year so it feels just great to be a winner. He ran a strong race last time so I was quite confident today. He wasn’t responding well in the last two corners but stretched really well in the straight. He’s easy to ride so I think he’ll have no problem with the extra distance in the Derby.”
Fourth choice Persian Knight traveled toward the rear, fourth from last, but gradually advanced forward along the rails through the backstretch. Entering the homestretch toward the front, the son of Harbinger also threaded through the crowded horses and took command 200 meters out but was unable to hold off the strong charge by Al Ain in the last 100 meters.
Rated around sixth from the front, 12th favorite Danburite stalked Fan Dii Na through most of the trip but overtook the race favorite 100 meters out and accelerated powerfully to close in on the dueling front runners to cross the wire 3/4 length behind in third. Meanwhile, Fan Dii Na took the lead briefly at early stretch but weakened in the uphill and finished seventh, about 3-1/4 lengths behind winner.
The Satsuki Sho, which is the first of the three legs of JRA’s Triple Crown Classics for 3-year-olds including the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby, G1, 2,400m) and the Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger, G1, 3,000m), is comparable to British Two Thousand Guineas. The “Yokohama Norinsho Shoten Yonsai Yobiuma,” the precursor of the Satsuki Sho, was first run over 1,850 meters at Yokohama Racecourse in 1939 then moved its venue to Tokyo Racecourse four years later before given its current name and shifted again to Nakayama Racecourse in 1949—the distance was also altered to 2,000 meters in the following year.
Seven of the past Satsuki Sho champions since 2005 subsequently received the JRA Best Three-Year-Old Colt Award, in recognition of their outstanding performances throughout the year—Deep Impact (JPN, Sunday Silence) in 2005, Meisho Samson (JPN, by Opera House) in 2006, Victoire Pisa (JPN, by Neo Universe) in 2010, Orfevre (JPN, by Stay Gold) in 2011, Gold Ship (JPN, by Stay Gold) in 2012, Isla Bonita (JPN, by Fuji Kiseki) in 2014 and Duramente (JPN, by King Kamehameha) in 2015. Triple Crown winners Deep Impact and Orfevre were also named the Horse of the Year.
Watch the race replay here:
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