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Justin Milano Wins First Leg of Japanese Triple Crown

Connections hope the win is a springboard to the Japanese Derby for the Kizuna colt.

Justin Milano (yellow cap) wins the Satsuki Sho at Nakayama Racecourse

Justin Milano (yellow cap) wins the Satsuki Sho at Nakayama Racecourse

Katsumi Saito

Justin Milano was up in the final strides to capture the first leg of Japan's Triple Crown, the Satsuki Sho (Japanese Two Thousand Guineas), April 14 at Nakayama Racecourse.

The Kizuna colt raised hopes for the rest of the series as he shaved 0.7 seconds off the course record and remained undefeated after three career starts. Jockey Keita Tosaki said the performance showed promise Justin Milano can compete as the Triple Crown races lengthen.

Last year's champion Japanese 2-year-old, Jantar Mantar, got to the lead at the top of the straight in the Satsuki Sho after following a hot early pace. He had every chance but, attempting 2,000 meters (about 1 1/4 miles) for the first time, he reluctantly gave way.

Justin Milano followed Jantar Mantar to the lead exiting the final turn and hit the front just a few strides from the finish. Cosmo Kuranda, under Joao Moreira, edged Jantar Mantar for second as Justin Milano finished in 1:57.1 over good to firm turf.

The favorite, Regaleira, a Suave Richard filly who defeated colts in the Hopeful Stakes (G1) in December, raced far behind the leaders through much of the race and, despite a stout late run, could only advance to finish sixth.

Tosaki said he positioned Justin Milano relatively close to the early pace, expecting a good finish would be required for success over the well-used turf course.

"Given the condition of the track, I thought that it would be better to race toward the front," Tosaki said. "He broke well and we were able to settle in that position naturally. The pace was fast but Justin Milano ran in his own rhythm. His response weakened a bit at the third corner but he regained his focus after the fourth corner and stretched well to win the race."

Justin Milano had the advantage of experience at the distance. He opened his career with a victory at 2,000 meters in a race restricted to first-time starters at Tokyo Racecourse Nov. 18. Trainer Yasuo Tomomichi then put him away until Feb. 11, when he won the Kyodo News Hai (G3), also at Tokyo. Jantar Mantar finished second in that, his first career loss.

Before the Satsuki Sho, Tomomichi expressed some concerns about the Nakayama course but not about his colt.

"He's a big-striding horse, and we'll have to see how he does on the small oval track in a race with many runners. The ground might not be in the best condition on the last weekend of racing as well," Tomomichi said.

"But he's quite easy to control, which I think works in his favor. I think he can handle any kind of race. With the talent he has, I think he has a chance, and I'm hoping for a good run as we look ahead to the Derby with him."

This year's Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby-G1), second leg of the Triple Crown, is May 26 at 2,400 meters (about 1 1/2 miles) and Tosaki also has the date circled.

"He's a smart horse with a lot of potential. He's easy to ride and I think he can handle the longer distance," Tosaki said.

Tosaki scored his second victory in the Satsuki Sho after partnering Epoca d'Oro in the 2018 edition. Epoca d'Oro then led through all but the final strides in the Derby, finishing second, 1/2 length behind Wagnerian in a six-horse blanket finish for the minor placings.

Justin Milano, out of the Exceed And Excel mare Margot Did, was bred by Northern Racing and is campaigned by Masahiro Miki.