2024 Oka Sho: Group 1 Review

Venue: Hanshin
Distance: 1600m
Value: ¥ 304,040,000 (approximately US$2 million)

Joao Moreira bagged the first Japanese Classic of his career when Stellenbosch claimed victory in the G1 Oka Sho for the great Almond Eye’s trainer Sakae Kunieda.

The Brazilian sported the personal colours of Northern Farm supremo Katsumi Yoshida, whose yellow, red, and black silks, believe it or not, hadn’t been carried to a Group 1 victory in Japan since Gold Dream won the 2017 Champions Cup.

The Epiphaneia filly advanced her record to three wins and two seconds from five starts, and reversed placings with her G1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies conqueror Ascoli Piceno.

Ascoli Piceno was the 3.5 market leader among the 18 fillies that went to post for Japan’s 1,000 Guineas, with Stellenbosch the 4.3 second choice. Stellenbosch broke moderately from gate 12, but Moreira gained comfortable cover at the back of midfield, positioning his filly just inside Ascoli Pisceno who found herself wide of her rival despite starting from gate nine under Hiroshi Kitamura.

Rank outsider Shonan Manuela set the pace, stalked by Etes Vous Prets. As the former faded, the latter kicked for home, but Moreira’s mount had by now shifted out for a clear run and began to wind into top gear.

Stellenbosch quickened to lead 200m out, changed legs close home, and held the pursuing Ascoli Piceno by three-quarters of a length as Etes Vous Prets faded out.

2024 Oka Sho: Race Replay

STELLENBOSCH / G1 Oka Sho // Hanshin /// 2024 //// Video by JRA

What They Said

Joao Moreira: “She didn’t jump very well, but she did nothing wrong during the race: she was very impressive. When we were approaching the home turn, we were trapped, but as we passed by the 500-metre marker, we were able to split horses. She went up front a little bit too early and I was worried she couldn’t sustain her speed all the way to the end, but as with all good horses, she has proved to be capable.”

Best Of The Rest

It can be dangerous to get too carried away about beaten deep-closers, especially in the first fillies’ classic of any season in any country, but the runs of Light Back and Sweep Feet can’t be ignored.

That pair raced together at the tail until the turn into the home straight. Ryusei Sakei angled Light Back widest and swept home to place third, a length behind the winner; Yutaka Take, meanwhile, had to shift in early in the straight and lost ground aboard Light Back, but the filly closed again to be half a length further back in fourth. 

What’s Next?

It could be a rematch in the Yushun Himba, the Oaks, at Tokyo on 19 May, and the proximity of the principals to one another here suggests it could be another close one.

REGALEIRA / G1 Hopeful Stakes // Nakayama /// 2023 //// Photo by JRA

But this race was contested without one of last year’s star juvenile fillies, Regaleira, winner of the G1 Hopeful Stakes, who takes on the colts again this weekend in the G1 Satsuki Sho. How that race goes for her will perhaps determine whether she will go on to the Derby, or become the cat among the pigeons against her own sex in the Oaks. 

David Morgan is Chief Journalist at Idol Horse. As a sports mad young lad in County Durham, England, horse racing hooked him at age 10. He has a keen knowledge of Hong Kong and Japanese racing after nine years as senior racing writer and racing editor at the Hong Kong Jockey Club. David has also worked in Dubai and spent several years at the Racenews agency in London. His credits include among others Racing Post, ANZ Bloodstock News, International Thoroughbred, TDN, and Asian Racing Report.

View all articles by David Morgan.

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