One week after dirt-turned-turf performer Vela Azul captured the Japan Cup (G1), Jun Light Bolt illustrated the benefit of a surface switch in the opposite direction in Sunday’s Champions Cup (G1) at Chukyo. Junji Kawai’s ex-turf runner swooped late to deny Crown Pride and win his third straight on dirt. Odds-on favorite T O Keynes, the defending champion, checked in a wide-trip fourth.
Crown Pride, Japan’s 2022 Kentucky Derby (G1) contestant who tired to 13th at Churchill Downs, continued his seconditis since returning home. The 13-1 fourth choice in the Champions Cup, Crown Pride was working out a favorable trip tracking a hopeless longshot. As the 267-1 Red Soldado got away with slow fractions, Crown Pride had his measure and duly brushed him aside in the stretch.
T O Keynes, on the other hand, was having a tougher time. Off a beat slow from post 12, the 1-2 favorite was stacked out wide for the duration. Last year’s hero ground his way into contention, but lacked his usual kick, and couldn’t get near enough to threaten Crown Pride.
Jun Light Bolt, making his first Grade 1 attempt on dirt, was shuffled further back in traffic. But the gap came, and jockey Yukito Ishikawa immediately steered him around T O Keynes and into the clear.
Crown Pride kept galloping toward the wire, but Jun Light Bolt came charging well inside the final furlong. The Yasuo Tomomichi trainee clocked his final three furlongs in a field-best :36.2 to collar Crown Pride by a neck.
Jun Light Bolt completed nine furlongs in 1:51.9 and secured an automatic entry in the Feb. 25 Saudi Cup (G1). The 6.90-1 third choice in Japan, he paid $27 stateside.
Hapi, another sophomore like Crown Pride, made the most of his close stalking trip to box on for third. T O Keynes hung another neck back in fourth. Fifth-placer Shamal was in the hunt until weakening late in this first try at the trip. Sunrise Hope closed for sixth, followed by Smashing Hearts; Notturno; Auvergne; Tagano Beauty; Red Galant; 6.70-1 second choice Gloria Mundi, another turf-to-dirt case study, who failed to factor from off the pace with Ryan Moore; Sakura Allure; Badenweiler, Marche Lorraine’s half-brother; Sunrise Nova; and Red Soldado.
Jun Light Bolt’s biggest career win was also Ishikawa’s first Grade 1 score as a jockey.
“I can’t find any other word to describe this other than ‘happy,’” Ishikawa summed up. “I tried to feel the horse’s rhythm and was confident that if we can find an open space after entering the lane, he would burst out. The colt responded so well that I knew we could win. Though I have yet to feel my first Grade 1 win, I would like to savor this joy from now on.”
Jun Light Bolt figures to give him more opportunities. By King Kamehameha and out of the Special Week mare Special Groove, the Northern Farm-bred five-year-old descends from Air Groove, Japan’s Horse of the Year in 1997. Air Groove is also an influential broodmare, producing champion Admire Groove (herself the dam of champion Duramente) and Group 1 star Rulership, among others. Rulership and Duramente are themselves sons of King Kamehameha and thereby close relatives of Jun Light Bolt.
Logically beginning his career on turf, Jun Light Bolt was useful enough as a juvenile to compete in the 2019 Asahi Hai Futurity (G1). The bay finished sixth behind Salios, and following another sixth in the 2020 Arlington Cup (G3), he lowered his sights. Jun Light Bolt won a pair of allowances in 2021, but he still wasn’t up to making an impact in listed company. Only when switching to dirt this summer did he begin to fulfill his potential.
Runner-up in the July S. at Fukushima in his dirt debut, Jun Light Bolt scored his black-type breakthrough in the Aug. 27 BSN Sho at Niigata. He passed his graded test in the Oct. 1 Sirius (G3) at Chukyo, and his Champions Cup coup improved his resume to 25-7-5-2.