Isla Bonita shortens up for Mile Championship

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November 21st, 2015

Isla Bonita, Japan’s champion three-year-old colt of 2014, has arguably been asked to go farther than he really wants, and his sheer class has kept him afloat. Now he’ll finally get the cutback in trip he may be looking for in Sunday’s Mile Championship (G1) at Kyoto.

The second leg of the Japan Autumn International, which began with Marialite’s surprise in last Sunday’s Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1) at Kyoto, the Mile Championship has also attracted burgeoning star Maurice; the top two from last year’s thriller, Danon Shark and Fiero; accomplished three-year-old fillies Albiano and Let’s Go Donki, both seeking to become the first of that cohort to win this race; and two who ventured to Australia earlier in the season, Real Impact and Tosen Stardom, among a contentious field of 18.

Isla Bonita hasn’t raced over the metric mile since his juvenile days, when landing a newcomers’ event at Tokyo and finishing second to Harp Star in the 2013 Niigata Nisai (G3). The son of Fuji Kiseki then handled increases in distance beautifully while compiling a four-race winning streak, culminating in the 2014 Satsuki Sho (G1) (which despite its moniker of Japanese 2000 Guineas is not a mile, but about 1 1/4 miles). Isla Bonita was a gallant second in the about 1 1/2-mile Japanese Derby (G1), and outstayed his pedigree to capture the about 1 3/8-mile St Lite Kinen (G2).

Outside the confines of his own age group, however, Isla Bonita hasn’t been able to skate over the longer trips. After checking in a fine third in the Tenno Sho Autumn (G1) for the second straight year, he’ll drop about a quarter-mile in distance on Sunday. And unlike a few of his key competitors, Isla Bonita has an excellent post (5). Regular pilot Masayoshi Ebina, who delivered a perfect ride aboard Marialite last week, bids for a quick Autumn International double.

Spearheading the established milers is Maurice, the mount of sought-after ace Ryan Moore. Although a debut winner over 1400 meters (about seven furlongs) on this course in a record 1:20.6 as a juvenile, he has only reached his peak this season at four. That’s entirely fitting for a son of late bloomer Screen Hero. Unbeaten from four outings in 2015, Maurice traveled best in the Yasuda Kinen (G1), smoothly struck the front, and kept to his task to hold off Vincennes. Unfortunately, Maurice hasn’t been seen since Tokyo’s prestigious mile event on June 7, and a back problem forced him to miss his prep. Connections believe that’s all behind him now. Yet no horse since Daiwa Major (2007) has swept both of the nation’s marquee mile races. A less than ideal preparation complicates the issue, as does a disadvantageous post (16). Otherwise, Maurice is a prime win contender.

Defending champion Danon Shark is a textbook horse-for-the-course, sporting a 13-4-4-3 mark at Kyoto. Third in this race in 2013, he denied Fiero by a whisker here last year, in what might have been a perfect storm for him. Danon Shark has raced only three times since, but his best effort was also his most recent – a closing fourth in the about nine-furlong Mainichi Okan (G2) at Tokyo. Although an obvious player, he’s not quite the caliber of past two time winners (such as the aforementioned Daiwa Major, Durandal, Taiki Shuttle, Nihon Pillow Winner).

Fiero (seen losing to Danon Shark on left) has been a maddening horse to follow, preferring to settle for minor awards. By Deep Impact and out of a full sister to mile legend Rock of Gibraltar, he’s placed in the past two runnings of both the Yomiuri Milers Cup (G2) (to Red Arion in the April 26 renewal) and the Mainichi Broadcast Swan (G2) on this track. Perhaps Mirco Demuro, who got acquainted with him last time, can conjure that little bit extra to muster a breakthrough.

Albiano just beat Fiero in the October 31 renewal of the Swan, the local prep at about seven furlongs, thereby proving that she can mix it up successfully with older males – and rally from further off the pace. The Kentucky-bred sophomore filly is living up to her pedigree. By Harlan’s Holiday, she is out of a half-sister to Arch and Acoma, her second dam is a full sister to Japanese champion Yamanin Paradise, and her third dam is Eclipse champion Althea. Albiano started her career with a trio of wins, then suffered her first loss when second to the more experienced colt Clarity Sky in the NHK Mile Cup (G1) back in May. But she’s probably a savvier operator at this point. Clarity Sky flubbed his Mile Championship prep, the October 24 Fuji (G3) at Tokyo, and wound up 15th of 16 in his only poor effort at this distance. Trainer Yasuo Tomomochi revealed that the three-year-old was too fresh off the layoff, and even “bolted” before the race. The talented miler would have rated a more persuasive rebound candidate if he hadn’t been marooned in post 18.

Let’s Go Donki, like Albiano, would make history if she can win this as a three-year-old filly. Unlike Albiano, she hasn’t faced males this term. But the daughter of King Kamehemeha is reverting to her best distance, and her early speed can carry her a long way here. A front-running winner of the Oka Sho (G1) (Japanese 1000 Guineas) at another right-handed course in Hanshin, she surged away emphatically in the stretch. Let’s Go Donki wasn’t effective when trying to stretch out in the two subsequent legs of the Fillies’ Triple Crown, or in the about nine-furlong Sho Rose (G2). Interestingly, she’ll break from post 3, right next to the speedy mare Keiai Elegant, who wired the course-and-distance Kyoto Himba (G3) in January. Keiai Elegant was also forwardly placed in the Victoria Mile (G1), where she was the first to catch the tearaway leader, only to be collared in the final stride by Straight Girl.

Four-year-old Red Reveur, the other distaffer in the field, is a veteran of the 2014 fillies’ classics. The Stay Gold filly traded decisions with Harp Star early in her career, edging her in the 2013 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies (G1) but just missing in their rematch in last year’s Oka Sho. Red Reveur lost her way after an apparently misguided attempt versus males in the Japanese Derby, but she’s shown signs of life this season. Ignore her troubled run last time in the Fuchu Himba (G2), and she could be a sleeper with new rider Andrea Atzeni.

Tosen Stardom (right), who competed in all three legs of the 2014 Japanese Triple Crown, may likewise prosper going shorter. By Deep Impact (the sire of the past two Mile Championship winners), he’s yet to try a mile. But four of his five lifetime wins have come at about nine furlongs, while his record over longer is spottier. He’s also four-for-five at Kyoto, including the Cassiopeia last out, with his only local defeat coming in last fall’s Japanese St Leger (G1). Tosen Stardom is now rounding back into form after his stint in Australia, where he was second in the Ranvet (G1) and fifth on unsuitably soft ground in the Queen Elizabeth (G1). If the cutback in trip yields improvement, he could exceed expectations. He will be joined by stablemate Satono Aladdin, a full brother to 2014 QEII Cup heroine Lachesis, who is also on the upswing for trainer Yasutoshi Ikee. Another Deep Impact colt, he exits neck losses in both the Epsom Cup (G3) and the Fuji.

Trainer Noriyuki Hori is double-handed as well, with Real Impact backing up his aforementioned stablemate Maurice. Real Impact will be trying the Mile Championship for the fourth time, after a pair of fifths in 2011-12 and a 10th in 2013. Hero of the 2011 Yasuda Kinen, the seven-year-old had to ship Down Under to find another top-level success in the March 21 George Ryder (G1) at Rosehill. He’s still trying to recover his form since returning home. Might the booking of Australian jockey Hugh Bowman help?

Logotype, the champion two-year-old colt of 2012 and record-setting winner of the 2013 Japanese 2000 Guineas, hasn’t built on that early resume. He’s nevertheless turned in some creditable performances in 2015, and with his back class and overall formline, he wouldn’t be a shock. Hopes of an imminent revival were dented, however, by post 17.

Curren Black Hill has fallen off since his banner 2012, while Daiwa Maggiore hasn’t replicated his career high of 2013, when he was second in this race. Both are by Daiwa Major, who’s trying to become the first Mile Championship winner to sire one. Sophomore Arma Waioli has placed in a trio of mile events, chief among them last December’s Asahi Hai Futurity (G1), but he’d need to step up markedly to factor versus his elders.

Photos copyright, and courtesy of, Japan Racing Association.