The Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby begins with the Cattleya Sho on Saturday (Friday night 12:15 a.m. EST) at Tokyo, and four American-breds will compete for points in the allowance race over a metric mile.
All four were purchased at public auction, the most expensive being the $650,000 filly by Square Eddie, Make Happy. Bred by Reddam Racing in California, the full sister to 2015 Hopeful (G1) winner Ralis was sold to Shadai Farm at Fasig-Tipton’s Gulfstream Sale on March 28. Make Happy made a stunning debut versus males at this track and trip October 7, drawing off by 10 lengths. Japan’s leading rider, Christophe Lemaire, is back aboard. Make Happy is the heavy favorite in the early betting despite drawing the far outside post 14.
Washington Tesoro, a Kentucky-bred son of Curlin, brought $550,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. A half-brother to current San Clemente (G2) winner War Heroine, Washington Tesoro romped in his lone start going about 1 1/16 miles at Fukushima.
Two others are graduates of the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company two-year-olds in training sales. Evacuant, bred by Godolphin in Kentucky, went for $200,000 at OBS in April and looked a bargain when pulling 3 1/2 lengths clear in his unveiling at Tokyo. Although that was an about 6 1/2-furlong sprint, the Street Boss colt gained momentum the farther he went. Evacuant will break from post 2, just to the inside of Washington Tesoro (post 3).
OBS March alumnus Seiun Kobe, secured by trainer Hideyuki Mori for $150,000, took four tries to break his maiden. But the son of Congrats got the job done last time out here, and now picks up one of the nation’s best jockeys, Keita Tosaki.
Top European riders Ryan Moore and William Buick have taken over the mounts on arguably the two most compelling Japanese-bred hopefuls in Romantico and Kingen, respectively.
Romantico, a son of Empire Maker, represents veteran trainer Kazuo Fujisawa. After placing in his first two starts, Romantico rolled by seven front-running lengths in a course-and-distance maiden. Lemaire had been his regular pilot but Moore is at the helm here from post 10.
Given his role on Team Godolphin in Europe, Buick logically takes the reins aboard homebred Kingen. By outstanding dirt sire Gold Allure, Kingen rallied to win convincingly at first asking in the slop at Hanshin. He projects a good trip from off the pace from post 6.
Gold Allure has another in the line-up, Naran Huleg, who beat next-out winner Kanashibari in their mutual debut on this track. A closing second in that sprint, the filly Kanashibari successfully stretched out around the Tokyo mile in her latest. They will be right next to each other in the starting gate, Naran Huleg in post 12 and Kanashibari in post 13.
Peisha Mouton was overlooked at 32-1 in his first try, but proved the odds all wrong when storming from well back to prevail by five lengths. The Neo Universe colt is a half-brother to Haseno Pyro, who scored points on last year’s Japan Road when third in the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun. Wild Trader also exits a Tokyo maiden score third time out.
Recent Kyoto maiden winner Johann, by transatlantic juvenile champion Johannesburg, was unplaced on turf but thrived on the switch to dirt. Seiun Offroad hopes for a similar spark as he goes turf to dirt, while Peisha Lil Kiss and the filly Rhein Carina have been put in their place as the competition has gotten tougher.
The Cattleya Sho offers points, applicable to the Japanese leaderboard only, on a 10-4-2-1 scale to the top four finishers. It is worth the least of the four scoring races on the Japan Road. The December 19 Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun at Kawasaki furnishes 20 points to the winner, next February’s Hyacinth S. back at Tokyo awards 30 points to the winner, and the new concluding event, the Fukuryu S. at Nakayama, is the treasure trove with a 40-16-8-4 points structure.