Clash Of Champions In NHK Mile Cup

Ascoli Piceno | Japan Racing Association

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A valiant second in the G1 Oka Sho last month, 2023 Japanese Champion 2-Year-Old Filly Ascoli Piceno (Jpn) (Daiwa Major {Jpn}) is looking for redemption in Tokyo's G1 NHK Mile Cup on Sunday having lost her unbeaten record. However, the 18-strong field boasts two champions and plenty of up-and-comers and her task is not straightforward.

The mount of crack French reinsman Christophe Lemaire, the granddaughter of the high class G1 Meon Valley Stud Fillies' Mile heroine Listen (Ire) (Sadler's Wells) won both the G3 Niigata Nisai S. and the G1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies last year. Stellenbosch (Jpn) (Epiphaneia {Jpn}) stole a march on the Yoichi Kuroiwa trainee in the straight to win the Japanese 1000 Guineas by just three-quarters of a length last out. Ascoli Piceno leaves from stall 14.

Kuroiwa said, “She handled the transportation over to the track well for the Oka Sho, and despite starting slowly in the race, she quickly recovered to get a good position. She got bumped a little turning for home, but despite this, she still ran on well. She's recovered from that race without any problems, and we've been able to make this next race the target for her.”

The NHK Mile is, literally, a clash of champions, as Jantar Mantar (Jpn) (Palace Malice), the male equivalent of Ascoli Piceno, is also signed on. A winner of his first three starts, just like his female counterpart, the colt is perched two stalls farther out, and has the services of Yuga Kawada. Both November's G2 Daily Hai Nisai S. and December's G1 Asahi Hai Futurity S. were secured by the Shadai Race Horse Company colourbearer. In 2024, he was a good second to subsequent record-setting G1 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) hero Justin Milano (Jpn) (Kizuna {Jpn}) in the G3 Kyodo News Hai in February, and wound up a brave third in the 2000-metre colts' Classic after briefly leading in the home straight. He should appreciate the shorter trip.

Trainer Tomokazu Takano said, “He wasn't able to hold off the other two horses in the closing stages last time, and just couldn't find any more at the end, but I was still satisfied with his third-place finish. He's a top-class horse with a lot of ability.”

Rulership (Jpn) colt Di Speranza (Jpn) sports both of his victories over the NHK Mile journey. He clocked a sharp 1:34.10, with rivals Arranger (Jpn) (Real Steel {Jpn}) and Channel Tunnel (Jpn) (Greater London {Jpn}) second and third in the G3 Arlington Cup at Hanshin in April. If he handles the rise in class, he could prove dangerous to the champion pair.

Di Speranza's assistant trainer Sho Tajima said, “Two starts ago, he was well back in the run, but last time he could get a better early position in the race, so he's showed us different ways of racing. Switching to the outside in the home straight last time worked very well, and he's now won two consecutive races over a mile.”

Although the winner of the other NHK Mile Cup prep, the G2 New Zealand Trophy is not in Sunday's lineup in Ecoro Bloom (Jpn) (Daiwa Major {Jpn}), both the second and third–filly Bond Girl (Jpn) (Daiwa Major {Jpn}), and Yukino Royal (Jpn) (Dee Majesty {Jpn})–are heading back into the fray and leave from posts five and 17, respectively. If she wins, Bond Girl would be the fifth NKH Mile winner to be ridden by the legendary Yutaka Take, and his first since Logic (Jpn) (Agnes Tachyon {Jpn}) in 2006.

Takahisa Tezuka, the trainer of Bond Girl, said, “She had to miss the Juvenile Fillies last year, so we then thought about going directly to the Oka Sho, but she couldn't get balloted into that. The New Zealand Trophy became her next race, and despite being off for a while, she put in a good run. The jockey was riding her for the first time, and thought she got into a good rhythm in the race. What's more, it gained her some valuable prize-money to get entered into races from now.”

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