This is considered to be one of the main trials for the Japanese Derby, which is to be run on the 31st of May. It’s over the same course and distance as the Derby which should in theory be a big help, given most of the JRA tracks are right-handed and Tokyo is fairly unique in that it’s the only really galloping left-handed track on the circuit. I say “in theory” because remarkably no horse has ever gone on from winning the Aoba Sho to win the Derby. They’ve run this race since 1984 and 33 winners of this have tried but none have managed to win the Derby.
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With Contrail being so impressive in the Guineas a couple of weeks ago, I’m finding it hard to imagine that the streak will be broken this year but there are a couple of nice horses in here, one in particular stands out like a sore thumb here, Figlio Allegro. He’s definitely one with plenty of improvement in him. He was pitched in to G3 company to start off his season on what was only his second ever start. Finished 3rd that day and wasn’t really given a hard time, were probably easing him back into it. That was over 9f, which was plenty sharp, up to 12f will be perfect for him.
Damian Lane, one of the best in AUS, gets up on him for the first time. He started riding more regularly in Japan last year and since then he’s become one of the most in demand jockeys when he’s over there. He does particularly well with the trainer of Figlio Allegro, Noriyuki Hori, who’s one of the best in Japan for many years now. When the two team up they have an insane record 16/36 (44%). Easy to see why he’s taken a shine to Lane.
One the biggest races on the calendar in Japan, it’s the longest Group 1 of the season, so can weed out plenty of these on account of stamina. Is a race that can throw up course specialists and there have been a few repeat winners in the last decade or so.
Fierement is going to be the favourite this year to join that club. He won from stall 10 last year coming from towards the rear of the field that day. This year he’s going have to do similar with the worst draw of all. He’s drawn 14/14. There should be a fair bit of pace on here and the ground is expected to be on the quick side both of which will suit.
Most racing fans this side of the world will remember him from his front running performance in last year’s Arc on heavy ground. It’s fair to say he’s a much better horse than we saw that day and the ground and the pace they went were definitely not to his liking. I wouldn’t be overly worried regarding the layoff either, he’s been off since he finished a very credible fourth in the Arima Kinen, which was comfortably the best race run in Japan last year. He had a similar layoff going into last year’s race and both his Group 1 wins have come over a staying trip off a layoff.
Fierement is a far classier horse than Kiseki and Loves Only You, his middle-distance form gives him a decent edge over a lot of these. Christophe Lemaire is back on board after he had to jump off to ride Almond Eye in the Arima KInen, he’s got on very well with him in the past including in this last year and the pair should take a lot of beating here.
The five of these all ran against each other in a handicap at the beginning of last month, that occasion Helene Leading Star won. He goes for three in a row here and I’d find it hard to knock him, a five-pound hike won’t help though and I’m not sure he has that much in hand. Even though he’s the most likely winner, I’d take him on here.
Savvy Nine is the one I’ve come down on. He’s the only 4yo and most unexposed of these, steps up in trip to a mile and a half for the first time, not going to be a stamina sapping gallop, wouldn’t worry too much about it. Slight doubt with him is the 4yo form. Hard to gauge at the minute, some who have gone the handicap route haven’t done it much of a favour but the two that ran in G1’s last week, More Than This (Champions Mile) and Playa Del Puente (QEII Cup), both ran very credibly and are now rated 111 and 110 respectively.
Savvy Nine finished just behind the two of them in the Derby and runs back off 92 on Sunday. Very easy to make a case for, Joao Moreira riding him for the first time is no bad thing and should have enough of a finishing kick to go well in what’s likely to be a slowly run race.
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