It would seem the deck is stacked against undefeated, all-white filly Sodashi in the 81st running of the Oka Sho (Japanese One Thousand Guineas, G1) April 11 at Hanshin Racecourse.
The Kurofune filly has caught the eye and won the adulation of the Japanese fans and, with four wins from four starts as a juvenile, is expected to go to the post as the favorite in her 3-year-old debut.
And yet, the favorite has won this race only twice in the past 10 years and finished in the first three in only half those. Sodashi hasn’t raced in four months. She faces two rivals who were right there at the end of her last victory, the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies (G1). And it’s been 11 years since a winner of that race has returned to win the Oka Sho.
Into the bargain, Sodashi is “overly sensitive,” according to her trainer, and even her color makes her care more difficult.
None of that negates Sodashi’s march through 2020. She won at first asking at Hakodate in July, captured hard-fought grade 3 victories at Sapporo and Tokyo, and then prevailed in a blanket finish in the Hanshin fixture, defeating Satono Reinas by a nose and Uberleben by another neck.
Satono Reinas, a Deep Impact filly, suffered her first defeat in the Juvenile Fillies and returns for another crack at her distinctively colored rival. Uberleben is not in the field for the 1,600-meters (about one mile) test but Meikei Yell does return after finishing fourth at Hanshin.
Satono Reinas’s rider, Christophe Lemaire, will have to work out a trip from the outside gate in a field of 18 while Sodashi is comfortably ensconced in the No. 4 slot and Meikei Yell in No. 8.
After her rest, Sodashi has been working primarily on the uphill gallop at the Ritto Training Center, building stamina and burning off energy.
“She can be overly sensitive, so we brought her back to the training center early and gave her gate practice and a hard workout last week,” said trainer Naosuke Sugai. “I can’t even begin to describe how well she has come along. We did everything we wanted to after bringing her back to the training center two months ago.
“The staff has been really good about caring for her and, being all white, it’s not easy. She gets a lot of attention every day.”
Her regular rider, Hayato Yoshida, fifth in the Japanese jockey standings, has the mount.
Meikei Yell, another who suffered her first loss in the Juvenile Fillies, returned in the Tulip Sho (G2) at Hanshin March 6, dead-heating with Elizabeth Tower for the win. Both are in the Oka Sho field.
“She did a good job letting off some steam with that last start and that made her easier to prepare this time,” said Meikei Yell’s trainer, Hidenori Take.
Satono Reinas, like Sodashi, makes her first start since the loss at Hanshin.
“She’d earned enough so I decided to give her some time off with an eye to this race,” trainer Sakae Kunieda said. “She hasn’t changed that much physically from her last race but she’s much more relaxed now and has matured mentally.”
The 1,600 meters at Hanshin starts on the backstretch and runs, right-handed, around the sweeping bend of the outer loop and through a long stretch run past the grandstand. There is a sharp climb through the final 200 meters.
The Oka Sho is the first and shortest race in Japan’s filly Triple Crown series, followed by the 2,400-meter (about 1 1/2 miles) Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks, G1) in May and the 2,000-meter (about 1 1/4-miles) Shuka Sho (G1) in October.