2024 Takarazuka Kinen: Group 1 Review

Track: Kyoto Racecourse 
Distance: 2200m 
Value: ¥ 475,200,000 (about US$3.6 million) 

‘Messy’, ‘a stop-start tempo’ and ‘held on tricky, rain-affected ground’… These aren’t usually descriptions associated with Group 1 racing in Japan, but Blow The Horn isn’t a stereotypical Japanese Group 1 winner, either. 

Not only was this a first Group 1 win for young trainer Tatsuya Yoshioka (48) – who took charge of Blow The Horn at the start of this season – and jockey Akira Sugawara (23), they did it with a horse that has taken an unconventional path to winning the Takarazuka Kinen. 

Blow The Horn took nine starts to win his maiden for his now-retired trainer Eiji Nakano, breaking through nearly two years to the day in a lowly three-year-old maiden at Hakodate, but his proven wet track form and a patient ride from Sugawara delivered a deserved victory at Kyoto, which hosted this race due to renovations at Hanshin. 

Many behind Blow The Horn were left languishing on ground that was rated ‘yielding’, including the favourite Do Deuce (more on him and his ‘Arc’ hopes later). 

All runners – plus fans on course – felt the brunt of a mid-race downpour that not only affected the ground, but visibility during the first half of the race.

The Race

This might not have been a brilliant ride from Sugawara, but more a case of ‘keeping his head when all around were losing theirs’ in the difficult conditions.  

Kyoto and surrounding areas had been subjected to heavy rainfall on the day preceding the race and on raceday – flood warnings had even been issued in the Kyoto area in the hours before the race. The conditions meant tactics would be key. 

Perhaps Blow The Horn’s barrier, 12 of 13, wasn’t the worst draw on this day: it was clear jockeys were looking for better ground wide, especially when coming off the larger of Kyoto’s two home turns. 

Blow The Horn was widest throughout but was also near-last with 1200m to go. As the field slowed to a walk through the back straight rise (400m sections of 25.4s and 25.1s from the 1600m to 800m), Sugawara took initiative and started moving into the race from the half mile. 

It was a move not matched by Yutaka Take on Do Deuce, who had the opportunity to follow Blow The Horn into the race but opted to stay to the inside on the 2.3 favourite.

2024 Takarazuka Kinen: Race Replay

BLOW THE HORN / G1 Takarazuka Kinen // Kyoto /// 2023

The Quote

Akira Sugawara: “We were able to win the race because the horse ran really hard despite the heavy going. Although we were positioned further back than planned and took the widest route, the horse seemed to have plenty of strength left when we turned the fourth corner so I urged him to go at the stretch and he responded with a remarkable turn of speed.” 

Akira Sugawara and Blow The Horn win the G1 Takarazuka Kinen
AKIRA SUGAWARA, BLOW THE HORN / G1 Takarazuka Kinen // Kyoto /// 2024 //// Photo by Shuhei Okada

The Beaten Favourite

Do Deuce famously fluffed his lines at Longchamp when faced with wet ground in the 2022 Prix de l’arc de Triomphe and softer ground was the main concern for the favourite here. 

This might be a ‘forgive run’ on the basis that Do Deuce could have been on the winner’s back when Sugawara made his move and challenging on the outside, not slogging through the quagmire inside. 

Do Deuce’s sixth wasn’t terrible, given the circumstances, but if connections proceed with their Arc dream they will still hope that Longchamp is sunnier than Kyoto was. 

A Narrative Challenged

Sol Oriens surging back into form and Osaki Hai winner Bellagio Opera sticking on after a tough run continued to push back on the narrative that the 2023 Derby class was a ‘weak crop’. 

Perceptions haven’t been helped by Tastiera’s four-year-old slump – he is zero-for-four since winning the 2023 Tokyo Yushun, including two unplaced runs this season. 

Bellagio Opera was fourth in the 2023 Derby and continued his strong season: his third was as tough as it gets and he will be hard to beat in the end of year majors. 

Sol Oriens had gone none for six since his blistering Satsuki Sho victory and had been disappointing in two starts back this season. Was it the cut in the ground that helped Sol Oriens, or has one of the most exciting classic winners of recent times found his groove again? 

What Next?

Australian observers may have been thinking ‘Cups horse’ for the winner but connections are likely to stick to a domestic campaign aimed at the season-ending Group 1 double of the Japan Cup and Arima Kinen.

Blow The Horn only tipped the scales at 428kg (944 pounds) before the Takarazuka Kinen – and that was up four kilos on last start – and Yoshioka believes his stayer is best served with space between runs. The five-year-old’s next start is likely to be back in Kyoto in October, in the Group 2 Kyoto Daishoten (2400m)

Michael Cox is Editor of Idol Horse. A sports journalist with 19 years experience, Michael has a family background in harness racing in the Newcastle and Hunter Valley region of Australia. Best known for writing on Hong Kong racing, Michael’s previous publications include South China Morning Post, The Age, Sun Herald, Australian Associated Press, Asian Racing Report and Illawarra Mercury.

View all articles by Michael Cox.

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