Japan’s current sprint stars, Big Arthur and Red Falx, have unfinished business to attend to. Connections are now pointing the burgeoning rivals towards the HK$18.5 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) at Sha Tin on 11 December, for a year-end decider.
Big Arthur emerged as the heir to the JRA’s (Japan Racing Association) champion sprinter crown with a breakthrough victory in the G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen (1200m) in March, the first of only two G1 sprint races on Japan’s racing calendar. The second, October’s Sprinters Stakes (1200m), appeared to be his for the taking after a decisive win in the lead-up, the G2 Centaur Stakes (1200m), but the fates had other ideas.
“We thought Big Arthur would win the Sprinters and that would be the last start of the season,” said Kenichi Fujioka, the five-year-old’s trainer. “However, Big Arthur did not have a clear run and failed to win, which is frustrating and an unsatisfactory result for our team.”
Big Arthur’s Sprinters Stakes run was a disaster. After gaining a rail run around Nakayama’s right-turning six furlongs, his passage turned torrid as the field straightened for home. Regular partner Yuichi Fukunaga searched inside and out for a clear route: with no exit, the pocketed champion-elect was shuffled from fifth at the top of the short, rising home straight to an untested 12th at the finish.
“I did not think about the race in Hong Kong for Big Arthur until what happened in the Sprinters Stakes,” Fujioka revealed. “After the Sprinters Stakes, I was determined I should seek the opportunity to try again and the Hong Kong Sprint is the race to run in.”
With Big Arthur in a tangle at Nakayama, Red Falx seized the opportunity. Forced to race wide throughout, the talented grey avoided the traffic issues that beset his rival but nonetheless posted a huge run under Mirco Demuro. The five-year-old entire roared up the hill to nick the Sprinters Stakes by a head from the reliable yardstick, Mikki Isle.
“A week after the Sprinters Stakes, I confirmed that Red Falx had no issue; his condition was good, so I discussed with his owner and decided to send him to the Hong Kong Sprint,” trainer Tomohito Ozeki said.
“After the Sprinters Stakes he had some time off at a pre-training farm. He returned to Miho Training Centre last week and will have a gallop this week.”
Both trainers are confident their charges will handle the Sha Tin test, which has fallen to Japan on two previous occasions. The winner in each instance was Japan’s greatest ever sprinter, the incredible Lord Kanaloa (2012 & 2013).
Similar to Lord Kanaloa, Big Arthur has matured to an impressive peak this year and will head to Sha Tin as a lightly-raced individual, his career record to date showing a return of eight wins from 13 starts, all on turf. Lord Kanaloa arrived at Sha Tin as a four-year-old with a seven from 12 record.
“Big Arthur is a big and powerful horse, like any top sprinter I have ever seen, and I believe he can handle the track at Sha Tin. I have booked Yuichi Fukunaga for the race,” said Fujioka of the Sakura Bakushin O entire.
Meanwhile, Red Falx’s Sprinters Stakes win was his third victory in succession and brought his career tally to eight wins from 18 starts, with four of those triumphs coming on a dirt surface and four on turf. The son of Swept Overboard, like his rival, has the profile of a horse in the throes of full bloom.
“He is a versatile type of horse who can handle both turf and dirt, both soft and fast tracks, so I think there is no concern about the track at Sha Tin for him. He will handle it,” Ozeki said.
“So far, he is very relaxed and is in good condition. He has no issue with traveling, so the journey to Hong Kong is not a concern.”
Logotype’s sights long since set on Hong Kong Mile
Japan unleashed a world class contingent on last year’s LONGINES Hong Kong International Races and that no-nonsense approach looks like being replicated on 11 December.
As well as Big Arthur and Red Falx, it is no secret that the 2015 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup and LONGINES Hong Kong Mile heroes, A Shin Hikari and Maurice, are slated to make the journey once again: there is also word from the Logotype camp that Maurice’s G1 Yasuda Kinen (1600m) conqueror is heading to the HK$23 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile.
Maurice, rolling on the back of his Hong Kong Mile and G1 Champions Mile wins, was an odds-on favourite to land a second successive G1 Yasuda Kinen at Tokyo back in June. But the champ had to settle for second as Logotype dictated the tempo from the front and held on for a shock verdict. That win was the six-year-old’s first since the G1 Satsuki Sho (2000m), Japan’s 2,000 Guineas equivalent, in April, 2013.
“The best race by Logotype so far is the Yasuda Kinen at Tokyo in June, when he beat Maurice,” trainer Tsuyoshi Tanaka said.
“While Logotype is a versatile horse and is good over 2000 metres as well as over 1600 metres, I believe his tactical speed works best at 1600 metres. When Logotype won the Yasuda Kinen, I started to consider the Hong Kong Mile as the race to aim for at the end of season.
“I understand the track at Sha Tin requires more power to handle than the tracks in Japan and I believe Logotype will handle it well,” he continued. “I have booked Mirco Demuro; he has ridden in Hong Kong before, knows the track and knows the jockeys there well. I understand that track knowledge helps a lot at Sha Tin.”
Japanese horses have 10 wins at the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races, going back to Fujiyama Kenzan’s breakthrough in the 1995 Hong Kong International Cup.
The HK$83 million LONGINES Hong Kong International Races comprises the HK$25 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m), the HK$23 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile (1600m), the HK$18.5 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) and the HK$16.5 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m).