June 13, 2024

Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby commences with Cattleya Sho

Saturday’s Cattleya Sho at Tokyo marks the opening of the three-race “Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby,” and the metric mile allowance features a good-looking debut winner in Weltall.

Trained by Yukihiro Kato and ridden by ace Christophe Lemaire, Weltall rolled by four lengths in a course-and-distance event for newcomers on October 8. The form doesn’t look overly strong, and the muddy track may have influenced his margin, but clearly much was expected as he went off favored. And his pedigree suggests there’s ample scope for better to come.

A Smart Falcon half-brother to Grade 3 victor Seda Brillantes and multiple Grade 2-placed stakes scorer Mondo Intero, Weltall hails from the family of Japanese Horses of the Year Narita Brian and Biwa Hayahide, champions Kizuna and Phaleonopsis, and 2002 Peter Pan (G2) hero and Belmont (G1) third Sunday Break.

Weltall, parked on the rail in the eight-horse field, is trading as the heavy early favorite according to japanracing.jp.

Meiner Yukitsubaki, most recently fourth to juvenile course record-setter Le Vent Se Leve in his first try versus winners, would flatter his conqueror with a bold showing here. The Noboru Takagi pupil had scored in his newcomers’ race on this track in June (whence both placegetters later went on to win) and may have needed that October 14 allowance off the four-month holiday. The son of I’ll Have Another tipped the scales 12 kilograms heavier after his vacation, implying he’s eligible to strip fitter from post 4 on Saturday. Meiner Yukitsubaki is the second registered foal from the winning Fuji Kiseki mare Camellia Bijou, a half-sister to multiple dirt stakes hero Civil War (by War Emblem).

Mic Ben Hur was an eye-catching second in a Nakayama newcomers’ event, where he closed from as far back as 12th. He secured better early position in his follow-up attempt and duly obliged by 2 1/2 lengths. That tactical improvement may bode well for his cutback in trip to a metric mile, after racing only at 1800 meters (about 1 1/8 miles) so far.

Bronze Kay, as a son of late-developing Lohengrin, has taken time to reach the winner’s circle but found it at Fukushima fourth time out. And he’s run creditably in his prior losses. Sixth in a loaded newcomers’ race on the Sapporo turf in August, he was third on the dirt track there and fourth at Hanshin to next-out allowance scorer Big Smoky. Interestingly, according to umanity.jp’s early entries, Bronze Kay was originally cross-entered to Saturday’s Radio Nikkei Hai Kyoto Nisai (G3) over 2000 meters on turf but chose this spot, where he will break from the outside post 8.

Niigata newcomers’ winner Ruggero hasn’t continued his progress in two ensuing starts on turf, most recently checking in eighth in the Saudi Arabia Royal Cup (G3). Hence trainer Yuichi Shikato is trying the dirt, and regular rider Keita Tosaki is along for the experiment. Pedigree offers some reason for hope, since sire Kinshasa No Kiseki is versatile, and his dam, multiple Grade 2 vixen and Italian classic winner Silver Cup, has likewise produced dirt winners. Both were turf performers themselves, but are apparently drawing upon further influences – Kinshasa No Kiseki is a grandson of Sunday Silence, and Silver Cup is by 1999 Dubai World Cup (G1) winner Almutawakel. Drawn toward the outside in post 7, Ruggero is vying with Meiner Yukitsubaki for the role of second choice in the early wagering.

Other contenders include last-out course-and-distance maiden winner Morito Yubu, who must turn the tables on Mic Ben Hur after finishing sixth to him two back; Apostle, who’s looked exposed at Mombetsu and must up his game on this circuit; and ambitiously placed Lady of the Lake, 0-for-6 on turf.

The Cattleya Sho awards points on a 10-4-2-1 scale to the top four finishers. The next stop on the “Japan Road” is the December 13 Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun at Kawasaki, worth the same points, and the concluding Hyacinth S. back at Tokyo in February furnishes a bonanza of 30 points to the winner.