Isla Bonita Seeks Winning Finale in Hanshin Cup
Fans of are in for a treat this weekend. Major graded stakes races are scheduled for both Saturday and Sunday, with the first up being the December 23rd Hanshin Cup (Jpn-II) at racecourse.Held at a distance of 1,400 meters (about seven furlongs), the race features a purse of well over a million dollars and has attracted a deep and competitive field of nineteen horses. Leading the charge is the six-year-old Isla Bonita, who boasts a record of seven wins from 24 starts. Trained by Hironori Kurita, Isla Bonita has been a graded stakes-caliber competitor since 2013 and counts a win in the 2014 Satsuki Sho (Jpn-I) and a runner-up effort in the 2014 Japan Derby (Jpn-I) among his best efforts.
More recently, Isla Bonita won the Milers Cup (Jpn-I) back in April with a powerful finish and ran second by a head in last year’s Hanshin Cup. Isla Bonita will try to go one better this year while making the final start of his career, though his most recent run—a fifth-place finish behind a couple of his Hanshin Cup rivals in the Mile Championship Stakes (Jpn-I)—suggests he’ll need to step up in order to end his career with a win.
One of his main challengers could be Sungrazer, a three-year-old son of Deep Impact that is unbeaten going less than a mile, including three wins at 1,400 meters. Two starts back, Sungrazer unleashed a powerful turn-of-foot to win the 1,400-meter Swan Stakes (Jpn-I) by a head over a yielding turf course at Kyoto. Sungrazer was subsequently beaten just a half-length when third in the Mile Championship, and the slight cutback in distance for Saturday’s race should be beneficial.
A wildcard in the Hanshin Cup could be Mozu Ascot. The three-year-old son of unbeaten superstar Frankel has won four straight races, including two at 1,400 meters, while finishing strongly and posting excellent final times. But Mozu Ascot yet to face competition of the caliber he’ll meet in the Hanshin Cup, so this will be a major class test for the promising colt.
The three-year-old filly Reine Minoru could also be competitive off her best form, which includes an upset win in the 1,600-meter Oka Sho (Jpn-I) back in April. She’s winless since then, but showed signs of returning to form when fourth in the Mile Championship. Also adding intrigue to the race is Moanin, who will make his debut on turf after compiling an accomplished record on dirt. Earlier this year, he won the prestigious February Stakes (Jpn-I) in the track record-breaking time of 1:34 flat for 1,600 meters.
Racing action continues with the prestigious Arima Kinen (Jpn-I) at Nakayama on Sunday.