Japan Racing Association top-level action remains at Kyoto Racecourse this weekend with the autumn's big mile event, the Mile Championship, featuring 16 nominees ranging in age from 3 to 5.
A turf contest over 1,600 meters, the Mile Championship sports a first prize of JPY180 million and a total purse of over JPY388 million. Like last week's Queen Elizabeth II Cup, the Mile Championship is returning to its usual venue for the first time in three years.
Six names repeat from last year's 17 runners and six of those were among the top seven finishers from 2022, including winner Serifos. Though a week ahead of the international gala Japan Cup, this year's Mile Championship will have its own international air about it, with Ryan Moore and Joao Moreira on short-term licenses expected to join year-round Japan regulars Mirco Demuro and Christophe Lemaire.
French native Lemaire cruises to the Mile Championship after an amazing sweep of the Kikuka Sho, the Tenno Sho (Autumn) and the Queen Elizabeth Cup gate and eyes his sixth Grade 1 victory this year. Lemaire has captured the Mile Championship twice, and is expected to be partnered with Schnell Meister, one of the top contenders. Lemaire has won all but one (the Yasuda Kinen) of the other three big mile events, the NHK Mile Cup twice, the Victoria Mile three times and the Mile Championship twice.
The Mile Championship is run to the right over the Kyoto outer course. Gate positions are not a major concern as the mile turf starts at a lead-in to the backstretch and has a long initial run of some 500 meters before the first, fairly relaxed first turn. Here, as the course drops and speed picks up, the inside tends to open up, facilitating successful attacks down the inside. The race tends to favor those with late speed who can travel close to the front or in midfield.
Four-year-olds and up will carry 58kg. 3-year-olds shoulder 1kg less, fillies and mares are allowed 2kg. The Mile Championship is the 11th race on the Sunday card of 12 at Kyoto. Post time is 15:40 locally.
Here's a look at the expected top choices:
Schnell Meister : The 5-year-old Kingman-sired Schnell Meister heads into his third Mile Championship. From his previous runs, he finished second in 2021 and fifth in 2022. Highly consistent in his six top-level bids in Japan, he has made the Top 3 in all but one. In the spring he captured the Grade 2 Yomiuri Milers Cup (run over the same course and distance as the Mile Championship), then scored a very close third in the Yasuda Kinen in June. Returning after four months, he recorded an even closer third in the Grade 2 Mainichi Okan over 1,800 meters at Tokyo in October. Trainer Takahisa Tezuka attributes the loss in the Mainichi Okan to a poor break and traffic in the finish. "He should have been able to land it as he's in much better condition than he was last fall." As he did before the Yomiuri Milers Cup, the Miho-based trainer shipped the horse west a week early for final preparations and said, "It'll depend on the trip, but if he's able to access his powerful turn of foot in the final stage, he definitely has a chance."
Serifos : A 4-year-old by Daiwa Major, Serifos surprised here last year when he sprang from a win of the Grade 2 Fuji Stakes over 1,600 meters at Tokyo to a win of the Mile Championship. He finished fourth in the two spring Grade 1 mile events - the NHK Mile Cup for 3-year-olds and the Yasuda Kinen (only a month apart) - had taken the spotlight off him heading into the Mile Championship despite his prep win, but he was nonetheless primed and ready for victory. A mile specialist, he has been given 1,600 meters for all but one of his 10 starts and has won five. This year his schedule has been somewhat more relaxed with a fifth in the Grade 1 Dubai Turf, followed by the Yasuda Kinen. In the latter, he was no match for Songline, but did score second and beat Schnell Meister to the wire by a head. With Songline out of the picture, Serifos has ample chance of landing his second Mile Championship. Key will be whether he can do so without a sharpener this year. Damian Lane had the ride last year, but this year Yuga Kawada is expected up. Kawada, who has yet to win the Mile Championship, rode first two career starts of Serifos, and scored wins in both.
Elton Barows : Only one of two 3-year-olds in the Mile Championship lineup, the Deep Brillante-sired Elton Barows takes on his first big test. Debuting late in his 2-year-old year, it took five starts before he landed his first win (though he had come close with three seconds). From there he caught a high wave and now surfs into the Mile Championship on a four-race winning streak that includes the Grade 3 Nikkei Sho over 1,800 meters at Fukushima, and the Grade 2 Mainichi Okan. He has proven at Kyoto with a win over the mile at the 1-win class race in May. Displaying a tendency to hang out racing to the left, Elton Barows should find both the switch to a righthanded track and the return to the mile pluses.
Soul Rush : Soul Rush, a 5-year-old by Rulership, finished fourth here last year. He was given time off until April of this year and has raced three times since, all over 1,600 meters. His third in the Grade 2 Yomiuri Milers Cup at Kyoto (only 0.1 seconds behind winner Schnell Meister) was followed by the Yasuda Kinen and the second time he experienced interference in that race, which factored in his poor results (ninth). Soul Rush returned in early September and, despite carrying the top weight of 59kg, captured the Grade 3 Autumn Handicap at Nakayama. It has been two months since that start, but he is looking fabulous in morning work. In addition, he's also expected to have an ace in the hand with new partner Joao Moreira in the saddle. Moreira has been successful at Kyoto, having won two of his seven graded-stakes rides there, with an additional second and third each.
Namur : The Harbinger filly Namur experienced interference in both her spring Grade 1 bids, with a seventh in the Victoria Mile followed by a finish only two off the rear in the Yasuda Kinen. She returned on Oct. 21 to land the Grade 2 Fuji Stakes under Joao Moreira. Her sharp final three-furlong time of 33.8 seconds indicates she is up to snuff and amply competitive here. It will, however, be her first time in a while racing to the right and she has been known to lug out in that direction, though veteran Ryan Moore, her new expected partner, may be able to help her ace those turns and clinch her first big win in her eighth bid. The only filly in the lineup, Namur will carry 56kg this time which is 1kg more than she had in the Fuji Stakes, but still a 2-kg advantage overall but the two 3-year-old colts.
Others of interest are:
Grade 3 winner So Valiant comes off a third in the Fuji Stakes, which was his first run over the mile. It was, however, his third-place showing prior to that in the Grade 2 Sapporo Kinen, where he held his own amid top-level competition and indicated this Orfevre son has what it takes to prevail in his first bid at the top.
Sixth here last year, Justin Cafe has recorded a second and a win in Grade 3 company from his four starts since. He returned in the Mainichi Okan after a four-month spell. Slow away, he raced from the far rear, but finished seventh only half a second behind the winner following a blistering final spurt that took him over the final three furlongs in 33.2 seconds.
Returning after four months, the 4-year-old colt Red Mon Reve carried the top weight in the Fuji Stakes last out but finished in second a length and a quarter behind Namur, who ran under 3kg less. Improvement is expected and Red Mon Reve may just realize former jockey Masayoshi Ebina's dream of winning his first Grade 1 as trainer.