Sol Oriens Defends Perfect Record in Japanese Derby


Photo: Masakazu Takahashi
Sol Oriens (right, white cap) wins the Satsuki Sho at Nakayama Racecourse

The Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby, G1), like its counterparts in other lands, is a defining race for prospective new stars and the May 28 renewal at Tokyo Racecourse finds Sol Oriens high on the list of contenders ready to shine. 

Sol Oriens, whose name aptly translates from the Latin to "Rising Sun," enters the 2,400-meter (about 1 1/2 miles) fray undefeated after three starts, culminating in a victory April 16 in the Satsuki Sho (Japanese Two Thousand Guineas, G1), where he overcame heavy going and a problematic draw.

In the usual big field for the Derby, Sol Oriens will have to cope with several of the same rivals, including the three who finished immediately behind him—Tastiera, Phantom Thief, and Metal Speed. Also lining up is Dura Erede , last seen finishing second in the UAE Derby (G2) on the Meydan Racecourse dirt in Dubai.

Sol Oriens' trainer, Takahisa Tezuka, sees him up to the challenge.

"I think his performance in the Satsuki Sho was good," Tezuka said after Sol Oriens drew gate 5 for the big race. "I had my doubts about whether he could do well over the heavy ground and how he would do with the inside gate and the big field. But he came through well on all points.

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"He's capable of an excellent performance in the Derby," Tezuka added. "Up against others of his age, I think 2,400 meters is well within reach. I think the ground and the times will be fast and I think those conditions will suit him."

The rivals' connections had varying takes on their chances in the Derby.

Tastiera's mentor, Noriyuki Hori, said he has had to overcome some issues with the Satono Crown  colt's right hind leg since the Satsuki Sho and the recent move from the farm to the training center left Tastiera a bit high-strung. The leg is "all better now," he said, and the horse's disposition is improved. 

"He's young and I'm getting updates from the same person who had been in charge of his sire and he says this horse is gradually getting better," Hori said. "The horse grasped the lessons of his work on May 18 and this should carry over..."

Yutaka Take will take the reins on Phantom Thief for the first time in the Derby and also issued positive reports on the Harbinger  colt's latest preparations.

"He has a great deal of potential and doesn't seem to have any particular quirks," Take said. "Rather than a very sharp turn of foot, he has stamina and determination. I look forward to bringing that out in the race."

Phantom Thief was 3-for-4 before the Satsuki Sho and finished fourth in the Hopeful Stakes (G1) in December.

Metal Speed, said trainer Makoto Saito, is "fully recovered" from the Satsuki Sho effort where he "put up a good fight and showed his strength in a number of places...The only concern is the distance."

The result of the Satsuki Sho could be viewed with a bit of suspicion as several of the also-rans were unable to deal with the yielding condition of the Nakayama Racecourse turf and their connections look for a better outcome on better ground.

Naosuke Sugai said of his colt, Hrimfaxi, who finished ninth, "I wouldn't say so much that he stopped running, but that he just became disgusted with it all."

"The ground was pretty bad," echoed Takeshi Okumura, whose Ho O Biscuits beat only one of his 17 rivals.

The Derby field also has a few "new shooters" who swerved the Satsuki Sho, chief among them Dura Erede, who followed a victory in the Hopeful with the runner-up effort in Dubai.

"Whereas he still may have some excess weight and his turn of foot may not be up to the level of some of the others, he makes up for that with his stamina," said Dura Erede's trainer, Manabu Ikezoe. 

Skilfing wins 2023 TV Tokyo Hai Aoba Sho
Photo: Masakazu Takahashi
Skilfing takes the Hai Aoba Sho at Nakayama Racecourse

Skilfing, whose name comes from Norse mythology, enters with three straight wins following a career-starting second. The wins include the Hai Aoba Sho (G2) on April 29, his second straight win over the course and distance of the Derby.

"I think all his experience at Tokyo should stand him well," said trainer Tetsuya Kimura.

While that experience is encouraging, it also saddles the Kitasan Black  colt with the "curse" that no winner of the Aoba Sho has ever won the Derby.