Could Another Double Triple Crown Be On The Cards in Japan?

Japanese Oaks winner Liberty Island | Frank Sorge/Racingfotos


We are poised midway between Japan's Oaks (Yushun Himba), which took place last Sunday, and Derby (Tokyo Yushun) this coming Sunday. What is not in doubt in the country that has led the way at so many international meetings in recent years, is that those two races over 2,400m are still very much targeted and revered by owners and breeders. In Japan, there is no shortage of horses bred specifically for that distance, or further. 

In any country, it takes a special horse to win the Triple Crown. For the first time ever in Japan, there was a colts' and a fillies' Triple Crown winner in 2020, courtesy of Contrail (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}) and Daring Tact (Jpn) (Epiphaneia {Jpn}). For the fillies, that special quest does not end in the Japanese St Leger in late October, but a week earlier in the Shuka Sho, in which they return to 2,000m.

This year, the Triple Crown is already on the cards again for one filly, with the vaunted Liberty Island (Jpn) having blasted past her rivals to a six-length victory in Tokyo on Sunday after taking the Oka Sho (1,000 Guineas) at Hanshin in April. 

The unbeaten Sol Oriens (Jpn) (Kitasan Black {Jpn}), winner of the Satsuki Sho (2,000 Guineas), is almost certain to start favourite for the Derby on Sunday for what will be just the fourth run of his life. His name, incidentally, translates from Latin to 'Rising Sun', an apposite moniker for a top-class Japanese galloper if ever there was one.

Both Liberty Island and Sol Oriens exemplify what has become a common theme in Japanese breeding in that they are by domestic stallions who are proven at the top level over a number of seasons, and often with form up to two miles, and out of classy international race mares. It is no accident that Japan has become a dominant force in world racing: they set out to breed horses with that all-important blend of class and stamina, prizing form highly for both stallions and broodmares.

Yankee Rose (Aus), by Red Ransom's son All American (Aus), may have had humble origins, and was famously bought for just  A$10,000 at the Inglis Classic Yearling Sale, but she earned her way to the top. Following her Group 1 victories at two and three, not to mention her runner-up finish in the prized Golden Slipper, she was duly bought privately by Katsumi Yoshida. Mated initially to two Derby winners in her first two seasons in Deep Impact (Jpn) and Duramente, she has struck gold with her second foal, Liberty Island. 

In the case of Skia (Fr) (Motivator {GB}), the dam of Sol Oriens and his Grade 2-winning half-brother Vin De Garde (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}), her final start brought victory in the G3 Prix Fille de l'Air for Leonidas Marinopoulos. She was later bought by French bloodstock agent Patrick Barbe, who has done plenty of business in Japan over the years, for €320,000 at Arqana's December Breeding Stock Sale.

Sol Oriens's sire Kitasan Black, a son of Deep Impact's full-brother Black Tide (Jpn), is also responsible for the exciting Equinox (Jpn) and was himself an accomplished galloper who didn't race until he was three. He made up for that with 20 starts over three seasons, his final appearance coming when he won the G1 Arima Kinen as a five-year-old, to seal a quintet of Grade 1 victories which included the Japan Cup and the Tenno Sho (Spring) over two miles. Kitasan Black was also third in the Satsuki Sho behind the Liberty Island's sire Duramente, with the latter, by King Kamehameha (Jpn), then going on to win the Derby. He had sired just five crops of foals when he died in 2021 at the age of nine. With five Grade 1 winners to his name already, Duramente looks a considerable loss.

Deep Impact, the most celebrated Japanese horse in recent history, and a Triple Crown winner himself who also landed the two-mile Tenno Sho, was another to have been the offspring of an imported mare, and of course he was by Japan's most famous equine import, Sunday Silence. Deep Impact's dam Wind In Her Hair (Ire) (Alzao), who, remarkably, is still alive at the age of 32 in retirement at Northern Horse Park, is a grand-daughter of the late Queen's dual Classic winner Highclere (GB) (Queen's Hussar {GB}). Second to Balanchine in the Oaks and a Group 1 winner in Germany the following year, Wind In Her Hair was another private purchase by Katsumi Yoshida. Her legacy in his country is now immense.  

Deep Impact's Triple Crown-winning daughter Gentildonna (Jpn), who was twice voted Horse of the Year in Japan, follows a similar pattern, being out of the G1 Cheveley Park S. winner Donna Blini (GB) (Bertolini), who was bought by Northern Farm for 500,000gns at the Tattersalls December Sale of 2006.

Little wonder, then, that such time and money is spent by Japanese breeders and their operatives in plucking some of the best race mares in Europe, America, Australia and beyond to bolster the home broodmare bands, whether through private purchases or at auction.

The extent of the former we can only guess at, but in the last four years at Keeneland's November Sale, for example, Japanese buyers have spent $59.3 million on 152 horses, and that was through a pandemic, don't forget. During that timeframe, €8.5 million has been spent at Arqana on 19 broodmare prospects, while at Goffs there's been an outlay of €2.1 million, and at Tattersalls another £14.2 million on 53 fillies and mares during the last four December Sales. And those figures are just from the breeding stock sales. Many millions more have been spent on foals and yearlings. 

In the last four years at Keeneland's November Sale, for example, Japanese buyers have spent $59.3 million on 152 horses

It is an eye-watering level of investment, primarily but not solely from the brothers Teruya, Katsumi and Haruya Yoshida. They respectively own Shadai, Northern and Oiwake Farms, and are collectively responsible for a power-packed roster at Shadai Stallion Station, which is currently home to 32 stallions. Of these, seven were bred in the USA, including last year's leading freshman, Mind Your Biscuits (Posse), and the Arkansas Derby winner Nadal (Blame).

The latter brings yet another branch of the Hail To Reason sireline into the country, which was enjoying great success there even before the Halo stallion Sunday Silence arrived. Nadal descends via Hail To Reason's Derby-winning son Roberto, whose son Real Shadai was champion sire in Japan in 1993, two years before Sunday Silence won the first of his 13 championships. More recently, Roberto's line has been well represented by Symboli Kris S and his son Epiphaneia. Jim Bolger's brilliant Poetic Flare (Ire) (Dawn Approach {Ire}) was another recent overseas recruit to a line-up which boasts 26 homegrown sires. 

On Monday, the Japan Racing Horse Association (JRHA) released the catalogue for its Select Sale in July, which sells yearlings on one day followed by the rather charming session of foals offered alongside their dams. Once sold, the foals return to farms where they were born to be weaned, and only later join their new owners. 

It offers an extraordinary opportunity for sale attendees to see some of these grand old girls in the flesh, and what a line-up it will be again this year, in the shade of the trees of the Northern Horse Park, as the morning inspection session takes place prior to the start of the sale. 

In a veritable international who's who of broodmares, those present alongside their foals will include former champion race fillies from America, Australia, Argentina, and Canada, including She Will Reign (Aus) and Caledonia Road, along with Classic winners from France, Germany and Italy in Dream And Do (Fr), Feodora (Ger) and Dionisia. Then there's dear old Donna Blini, who is represented by both yearling and foal half-sisters to her greatest creation, Gentildonna. 

It is a catalogue that is almost impossible to preview in short form, containing as it does a deep, global representation of top-class form on both sides of each youngster's pedigree. But in short, it can be viewed as a set text for a lesson from a country which continues to prioritise form and longevity, with a long-term eye on the middle-distance horse. A land where, whatever the outcome for Sol Oriens, the sun continues to shine brightly on the breeding industry. 


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