Efforia brought some much-needed clarity to the Japanese 3-year-old picture with a three-length victory in the Satsuki Sho (Japanese Two Thousand Guineas, G1) April 18 at Nakayama Racecourse.
The Epiphaneia colt not only kept his undefeated record intact in his fourth start, he also dominated a field that included many of his likely rivals for the next two legs of the Japanese Triple Crown.
Efforia, with Takeshi Yokoyama up, got a clean start from the gate 7 in a field of 16 and saved ground just behind the leaders passing the grandstand the first time. He held that position around the first bend and down the backstretch, joining a clot of rivals as things got serious around the second turn.
The Nakayama course features a climb through the stretch and Efforia tackled that with ease, gaining the lead and quickly opening up a daylight advantage. His closest rival, Titleholder, was three lengths in arrears at the finish with six others in close attendance. He completed the 2,000 meters (about 1 1/4 miles) on good turf in 2:00.6.
The favourite, 2020 Hopeful Stakes (G1) winner Danon the Kid, was not in that group. The Just a Way colt raced prominently into the final turn, then faded late to finish second-last, suffering his second defeat in as many starts this year after going unbeaten in 2020.
Titleholder, fourth in the Hopeful, had started 2021 with promise, winning the Hochi Hai Yayoi Sho Deep Impact Kinen (G2) in his first start of the campaign with Danon the Kid third. Titleholder finished a neck ahead of third-placed Stella Veloce in the Satsuki Sho.
"The pace wasn't that fast," said Yokoyama, who notched his first grade 1 win, "so we were able to cruise along in a good position. But we were a little tight going into the stretch and I could not be sure of my win until the end."
Yokoyama is the son of still-active jockey Norihiro Yokoyama. The elder Yokoyama won the Satsuki Sho aboard Seiun Sky in 1998, the year the younger Yokoyama was born. They are the third father-son jockey winners of the race following Yutaka and father Kunihiko Take and Yuichi and father Yoichi Fukunaga.
"It's such a great feeling," Yokoyama said of the Satsuki Sho outcome. "I was fortunate to have been able to ride this colt since his debut and although I knew the colt, coming here undefeated, would be heavily backed and the pressure would be great, I believed that if I put my concentration on using whatever skills I had as a rider and bring out the best performance from my horse, that we would have a great chance of winning."
Efforia, out of the Heart's Cry mare Katies Heart, was bred by Northern Farm and races for U Carrot Farm. He is trained by Yuichi Shikato.
Efforia made two starts as a juvenile, winning his debut at Sapporo Aug. 23 and then at Tokyo Racecourse Nov. 8. He kept his record intact with a victory in his 3-year-old debut in the Kyodo News Hai Tokinominoru Kinen (G3) Feb. 14, also at Tokyo, one of the major preps for the Satsuki Sho. That was enough to make him second-favorite behind Danon the Kid.
Shikato said Efforia has progressed nicely.
"He's coped well with his workload in training," Shikato said before the Satsuki Sho. "As a 2-year-old, physically and mentally he was a little weak, and his hindquarters weren't so strong, so it took him a bit of time to recover from races. Over time, though, he's developed well and has become a lot stronger."
Elsewhere among the Japanese 3-year-olds: At Hanshin April 17, Ho O Amazon stalked the pace in the Arlington Cup (G3) for 3-year-olds, challenged through the stretch, and edged clear late to win the 1,600-meter (about one-mile) event, run over yielding turf, by 1 1/4 lengths. The King Kamehameha colt had two wins and two seconds in his first four starts in 2020 but finished ninth in the Asahi Hai Futurity (G1) in December.