The new addition to the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby, Wednesday’s Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun at Kawasaki, rates as the nation’s top race for two-year-olds on dirt. Held over a metric mile (1600 meters), it features arguably Japan’s most compelling runner in this division – Le Vent Se Leve.

Trained by Kiyoshi Hagiwara, whose Epicharis topped the inaugural Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby in 2017, Le Vent Se Leve is unbeaten from two starts. And he has dusted his opposition handily, hinting that he had plenty more up his sleeve if necessary. 

The son of two-time Japanese Horse of the Year Symboli Kris S debuted in an August 13 newcomers’ race at Niigata, where he launched an aggressive early move on the backstretch and stayed on relentlessly to romp by seven lengths over Big Smoky. The fact that Le Vent Se Leve could make that kind of move successfully, first time out at about 1 1/8 miles, implies he’s got an abundance of stamina for the classic trail.

Next seen in a Tokyo allowance over a metric mile, Le Vent Se Leve showed that he’s no plodder when setting a juvenile course record in 1:36.20. Regular rider Mirco Demuro deployed him turning for home, and he responded with a sweeping move out wide and stamped his authority, under wraps, by 2 1/2 lengths. 

Le Vent Se Leve has been flattered since then as a few of his rivals have turned in solid efforts in their ensuing starts. Most notably, the colt who finished fourth behind him at Tokyo, Meiner Yukitsubaki, was a near-miss third in the first Japanese points race, the Cattleya Sho.

Also, Tokyo third Viel Spass just came back to finish second to Don Fortis, who brings a three-race winning streak into Wednesday’s race.

By Beholder’s sire, Henny Hughes, Don Fortis has compiled his skein at three different tracks, at Chukyo, Hanshin, and most recently the about nine-furlong Hokkaido Nisai Yushun at Mombetsu – the race won last year by Epicharis, who went on to land the Hyacinth on the Japan Road.

Another coming off a significant victory is the undefeated Hayabusa Maca O, a son of 2006 Blue Grass (G1) winner and Kentucky Derby (G1) also-ran Sinister Minister. Three-for-three, he’s scored at Sapporo, Kyoto (in juvenile course-record time for about seven furlongs), and at Sonoda in a listed stakes called the Hyogo Junior Grand Prix.

Dark Repulser, by 2007 Kentucky Derby runner-up Hard Spun, likewise brings a perfect mark. The half-brother to 2009 Japan Cup Dirt (G1) hero Espoir City won both outings at about seven furlongs at Tokyo and now steps up to a metric mile.

The aforementioned Big Smoky, a half-brother to Canadian champion Hunters Bay, is by outstanding sire King Kamehameha and out of multiple Grade 2-winning millionaire Smok‘n Frolic. Although he’s captured his last pair, including an about nine-furlong race at Kyoto in record time, he’ll need to keep improving to turn the tables on Le Vent Se Leve.

Haseno Pyro, a son of 2008 Louisiana Derby (G2) winner and Kentucky Derby also-ran Pyro, is nearly unbeaten. Just edged on debut, he’s gone on to win his next three, including two at this venue, and he made it a hat trick at Ohi. This represents a class hike.

Soy Cowboy, by 2011 Wood Memorial (G1) hero Toby’s Corner, exits a third to Hayabusa Maca O, while Southern Vigorous and Happy Grin were third and sixth, respectively, to Don Fortis in their latest. Rounding out the 14-horse field are Riko Walther, a winner over the track last out; Damonde, unplaced that day but most recently victorious at Mizusawa; Tosen Bull, who broke his maiden here back on July 4 but comes off a third to Haseno Pyro; Dombey, winner of three of five at Funabashi; and Mr Bach, with 10 starts under his belt already.

Like the Cattleya Sho, the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun offers points on a 10-4-2-1 scale to the top four finishers, counting strictly on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. The third and final scoring race, the Hyacinth in February, will be decisive with its 30-12-6-3 points allotment.