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Osaka Hai Has Familiar Names but a History of Upsets

Only three of the last 10 favorites have saluted the judge.

Geraldina captures the 2022 Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Hanshin Racecourse

Geraldina captures the 2022 Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Hanshin Racecourse

Masakazu Takahashi

Some familiar names are lined up for the Osaka Hai (G1) for older middle-distance runners April 2 at Hanshin Racecourse but history shows it pays to look beyond the obvious choices in this one.

While the race has been won by the likes of Orfevre, Kitasan Black and Kizuna, favorites have won just three of the past 10 renewals. The 2022 victor, Potager, went to the post at odds of 58-1.

It certainly is worth it to take a shot in the race, the first top-level, middle-distance race on the Japanese calendar, since the winner gets an automatic entry into the Irish Champion Stakes (G1) as an added incentive to the US$1.53 million winner's share of the US$3.3 million purse.

Overlooking the upset history, there are some obvious standouts in the 16-horse field.

Geraldina, a 5-year-old mare by Maurice out of the star race mare Gentildonna, won the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1) at Hanshin in November. She then finished third a month later in the Arima Kinen (G1), a race won by Equinox, whose dominant victory in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) March 25 solidified his place atop the world's best middle-distance runners.

Jockey Mirai Iwata will have to negotiate a trip for Geraldina from the inside post position.

"The distance of 2,000 meters (about 1 1/4 miles) doesn't rush her into things," said trainer Takashi Saito, "and hopefully she'll get into the flow of the race and run well. I'm looking forward to what she might be able to do this year."

Danon the Kid has done his best work at shorter distances and hasn't won since the 2020 Hopeful Stakes (G1) but did manage a gutsy second behind Romantic Warrior in the 2,000-meter Hong Kong Cup (G1) in December at Sha Tin Racecourse. Romantic Warrior went on to finish second to Hong Kong superstar Golden Sixty in his next two starts, both group 1 events.

Jack d'Or makes his first start since finishing seventh in the Hong Kong Cup and was fifth in the 2022 Osaka Hai but trainer Kenichi Fujioka cites extenuating circumstances.

"In last year's race," Fujioka said, "the pace was strong but the ground wasn't perfect and he also lost a shoe. His condition now is similar to last year but he's had longer between races this time and that's better for him. The going isn't necessarily an issue for him and if he runs with a good natural rhythm, he has a chance."

Yutaka Take returns from Dubai to take the mount on Jack d'Or.

Stars on Earth wins 2022 Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) at Tokyo Racecourse
Photo: Masakazu Takahashi
Stars on Earth wins the 2022 Yushun Himba at Tokyo Racecourse

Stars on Earth, won the 2022 Oka Sho (Japanese One Thousand Guineas, G1) and Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks, G1), then was a close third in the Shuka Sho at Hanshin Racecourse in October but hasn't raced since. Both trainer Mizuki Takayanagi and jockey Christophe Lemaire said the Duramente filly has grown and matured.

"She's felt good in training, and I've been pleased with her responses and footwork. She's a lot bigger now, and as a 4-year-old, more like an adult. I look forward to riding her this year," Lemaire said.

Weltreisende was third in the Japan Cup (G1) in November, a race won by Vela Azul. That form has acquired some tarnish as Vela Azul subsequently reported 10th in the Arima Kinen and 13th in the Dubai World Cup (G1).

If the upset bug is to bite again, the race is wide open.

Yoshitada Takahashi, trainer of Wonderful Town, may have spoken the thoughts of many other owners and trainers represented in the race, saying, "I'd expect him to try his best this time and, even among these top horses, I want him to put in a good challenge."