Group 1 Osaka Hai Preview 2023

Hanshin hosts the Group 1 Osaka Hai (2000m) this Sunday with some of the better middle-distance horses in Japan clashing.

POTAGER winning the Osaka Hai at Hanshin in Japan.
POTAGER winning the Osaka Hai at Hanshin in Japan. Picture: Japan Racing Association

Won by the likes of Orfevre, Kitasan Black, Suave Richard and Kizuna in the past ten years, the Osaka Hai is the first turf Group 1 of the Japanese season for the middle distance stars which Japan is known for.

While this year the two best horses are missing in Equinox and Titleholder, it does mean we have a spirited betting contest with a handful of genuine winning chance at around $4 the field, with five horses in single figures.

The early favourite is Stars On Earth, who went within 0.6 lengths off winning the fillies' triple crown. Victorious in the Oka Sho (1000 Guineas), Yushun Himba (Oaks) she came off a set-back and arguably should've won The Shuka Sho at this track and distance behind Stunning Rose.

Her peak rating (when beating Stunning Rose at Tokyo) is 120 and if she runs up to that with her fillies' allowance, she'll be right in the finish. Not sure she's any value at around $3.50 in early betting because I'm a bit suspect on that fillies' form, but she's the best of it.

Geraldina occupies the second spot in the market. Her form on paper looks very good and she really came into her own at the end of last campaign, winning her first Group 1 in the QEII Cup before a third placing to Equinox in the Arima Kinen.

She was solid at Nakayama, beaten 4 lengths (which looks very good form after Dubai) but realistically, Equinox was in a race of his own there as well. While she showed improvement last campaign, she rated 115-118-115 and I think she'd need to improve another length or two to be the winner.

Hishi Iguazu is one of the leading chances who has had a first up run, successful in the Group 2 Nakayama Kinen. That was a messy race but he did well to win off an eight month spell and he's generally been very consistent. Second to Loves Only You in the Hong Kong Cup, then fourth in this race last year as a $27 chance, he ran to his peak of 121 in the Group 1 Takarazuka Kinen (2200m) behind Titleholder before the spell.

That's competitive, but it's not a winning figure and I'm surprised he's so short given his profile compared to a couple of others in this field.

Jack D'Or is one of those with the right form lines for this. Well beaten in Hong Kong as a $5.50 chance is easy to forgive off the brutally run Tenno Sho, sitting fourth behind tearaway leader Panthalassa, beaten just 1.8 lengths by Equinox.

He was beaten in this race last year by surprise winner Potager when starting $3.70 but I quite like him fresh for this at 2000m. Prior to the Tenno Sho he got the better of Panthalassa in the Group 2 Sapporo Kinen (2000m), also beating Win Marilyn comfortably and running to 123 which would go close here. His peak of 125 when towelling up Lei Papale at Chukyo, who ran second in this race last year.

The other key thing to note for him is there doesn't appear to be much speed in the race at all and I would think Yutaka Take takes him straight to the front and gets an easy time of it. I think there's a strong case to be made he should be shorter than he is and he could be marked equal favourite with Stars On Earth from Geraldina.

Weltreisende is the other horse in single figures, coming off a win in the Group 2 Nikkei Shinshun Hai (2200m) at Chukyo. He got a good run there in a fairly average race but did run to 121, just one pound off his best which came in the Japan Cup behind Vela Azul.

I'm very suspect on that Japan Cup form however. Vela Azul was found out in the Arima Kinen and handled by Geraldina, and the last time Weltreisende met Geraldina she beat him by 6.5 lengths.

I can see why Stars On Earth is favourite but I'm not yet sold on that fillies form. I think Jack D'Or is the one who brings the best form around Panthalassa and Equinox, and gets his chance to control a race without the Panther in it.

Currently $6, I think he's worth a bet.

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