Contrail made history on several fronts and raised expectations to new heights with a hard-fought victory Oct. 25 in the Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger, G1) at Kyoto Racecourse.
The Deep Impact colt became the eighth Japanese Triple Crown winner but the first to do so undefeated. The victory also completed the first father-son sweep of the series. And it completed a “Triple Crown double,” following by one week Daring Tact’s sweep of the Japanese Triple Tiara.
As for the future, the country’s avid racing fans now will look to the new hero to emulate past Triple Crown champions, who have gone on to win some of Japan’s biggest grade 1 fixtures, including the Arima Kinen (G1) and Japan Cup (G1). Orfevre, the last previous Triple Crown winner, twice finished second in the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1).
The Kikuka Sho was no cakewalk for Contrail and jockey Yuichi Fukunaga. Trying 3,000 meters (about 1 7/8 miles) for the first time, Contrail raced well back of the early pace until the field fanned out while leaving the backstretch for the second time.
As he accelerated for the final 300 meters, Contrail found Aristoteles, who had dogged him the whole way, accelerating right on his flank. The two raced as a team to the wire with Contrail just a neck in front at the finish. Satono Flag was another 3 1/2 lengths back in third as the timer stopped at 3:05.5, :04.5 off the stakes record despite fine weather and firm turf.
“I can’t say that I was successful in keeping him relaxed during the race with so much pressure from Aristoteles,” Fukunaga said.
“It turned out to be a tough race for us with Aristoteles looking quite strong and persistent, and this race may not have been his best performance,” Fukunaga added. “But I kept my faith in Contrail and he certainly showed how strong he is to have maintained his position up to the end of the 3,000-meter trip.”
Contrail, out of the Unbridled’s Song mare Rhodochrosite, was bred by North Hills and races for Shinji Maeda.
The colt breezed through three starts as a 2-year-old, culminating in victory in the Hopeful Sakes (G1) at Nakayama Dec. 28. He won the Satsuki Sho (Japanese Two Thousand Guineas, G1) at the same venue April 19 without a prep race and then scored his fifth straight win in the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby, G1) May 31 at Tokyo Racecourse.
After a break, trainer Yoshito Yahagi then gave him a warmup for the Kikuka Sho in a grade 2 event at Chukyo Sept. 27.
After that, Fukunaga said, “If anything, his reactions have become better when it comes to getting his big strides in. … His racing sense has improved a lot.”
The surprise of the Kikuka Sho was Aristoteles, an Epiphaneia colt who thoroughly outran odds of 23-1 with Christophe Lemaire in the irons. While he was stepping way up in class, Aristoteles entered the race with three wins and four seconds from eight starts and trainer Hidetaka Otonashi expressed confidence at the barrier draw.
“I think he’s just right going into the race,” Otonashi said. “It’ll be the same for most of the other horses when it comes to taking on the 3,000 meters, but he’s a horse with a lot of stamina.”
If Deep Impact’s impact on Japanese racing needed any further emphasis, the Kikuka Sho provided it. Aristoteles was produced by the Deep Impact mare Blue Diamond, and Satono Flag, the Kikuka Sho third, is by Deep Impact, who passed away in July 2019.