GEORGE RYDER STAKES (Group 1)
Rosehill Gardens, Turf, 1500m
21 March 2015
The rising giant of the comparatively modern world of thoroughbred breeding, is undoubtedly Japan. Like the sun in that part of the world, for the past couple of decades, the Japanese racehorse has emerged inexorably from something of a waste product in a forgotten frontier, to a symbol of class wherever racing is taken seriously. While vast fortunes have been splurged by Japanese horsemen on the acquisition of quality stock wherever it is to be found, one family in particular stands head and shoulders above the rest of the nation in the accrual of these outcomes. The late Zenya Yoshida was the pioneer behind the resurgence of the breed in that neighbourhood, the longevity of which legacy his sons Teruya, Katsumi and Haruya have since guaranteed. While we tend to remember the more recent exploits of Japanese horses in various regions of the globe, we shouldn’t forget that the genesis of that country’s current power in racing had its roots as far back as the foundations of the family’s Shadai Farm: Yoshida Snr. joined the 70s rush for sons of Northern Dancer, claiming the title to Northern Taste, whose bold white blaze engulfed his left eye, giving him a somewhat ghostly appearance that might’ve frightened off some of his prospective fans.
Under the famous Shadai black, gold and red colours, Northern Taste earned Group One glory for himself in France’s Prix de la Foret on “Arc” day as a three-year-old in 1974, and returned to his adopted homeland to reshape the breed. Not only did he seize perennial possession of the Sires’ Premiership, but his daughters formed formidable alliances with his fellow Shadai stallions, none more so than with the exceptional American Horse Of The Year, Sunday Silence, whose contribution to the state of the modern thoroughbred, has been nothing short of immense, despite his isolation in far-off Japan. It’s been argued that it might have been even more profound had he been stationed in the country of his birth, where he would’ve had access to mates from both sides of the Atlantic.
There are no guarantees in this game though, and we shouldn’t forget that the careers of great stallions are not only forged by their own prepotency, but on the intuitions of the horsemen that work with them, and the peculiar attributes of the pool of mares that make up their harems. At the very least, there was a serendipity in the fact that American breeders spurned Sunday Silence for his unsightly hocks, his offset knees and his lack of what they call “substance”, and that the Yoshidas on the other hand, saw him for what he was, a spectacular racehorse of freakish talent who might impart the “X-Factor” he displayed at the races, to his own progeny. That this was so, was evident again in Australia at the weekend, when Japanese racing in general and the influence of Sunday Silence’s outstanding son, Deep Impact, in particular, was on display.
Before I venture any further with the events at Rosehill on Saturday, it’s worth recalling what it was that led to Japan being the modern font of the world’s best stamina. The American-bred invasion of the British classics in the 70s, headed up by Sir Ivor, Mill Reef and Nijinsky, led to the abandonment by both British and European breeders of their Derby, King George and Arc winners as prospective stallions, in favour of the trans-Atlantic lines which had spawned this new generation of speedsters.
The Japanese saw a gap in what was happening in Europe, designed a racing programme to suit the mile and a half horse, and proceeded to plunder the best winners of these races from the Europeans, stocking their larder with the very ingredients that had made European racing what it had become after three centuries of meticulous selection. Here was a largesse the rest of the world appeared to have forgotten, and in the same manner that post-war Japan had built itself into the second largest economy in the world, by first mimicking and then outperforming its competitors, so they went to work in the business of breeding racehorses.
You have to go back to the days when the great stallions of Britain and Europe came from the ranks of the winners of races such as the Grand Prix de Paris (a 3000m event won by the stallion colossus, Nearco,) the Prix Gladiateur (4500m in those days) and the 2 ½ mile Ascot Gold Cup the central showpiece at the Royal meeting at Ascot. Winning those races in the modern era, even the St Legers of those countries (approximately 2690 metre) is the kiss of death for any horse with aspirations of making it as a stallion on the flat: in stark contrast, two of the best stallions currently standing in Japan, Manhattan Café and especially the new sensation, Deep Impact (both sons of Sunday Silence) won at distances of 3000 metres and beyond, which begs the question, just how many potential sires has the Western world discarded for their sin in excelling over a distance of ground? Back in South Africa, we’re reminded that right here at Hartford, a former Gold Cup (3200m) winner, Salmon, was a champion sire of two-year-olds, while the same applied in a later era to the Washington DC International (2400m) hero, Wilwyn, who topped the general sires’ list from his court at the Oppenheimer’s Mauritzfontein Stud in Kimberley, as well as leading the juvenile log on more than one occasion.
That was a long story in getting to the point of this conversation, namely the weekend’s events in Sydney, where the Japanese invader Real Impact (by Deep Impact) got the better of the 2014 Australian Derby ace Criterion, to win the George Ryder Stakes (Gr.1) over 1500 metres. The Australian pedigree guru, Les Young, reported “that Real Impact was a not entirely unexpected winner, given the tall rangy stallion was coming off a last start win at home in late December in the 2014 Hanshin Cup (Gr.2, 1400m), a race he also won in 2013. Australian racing people rightly respect the class and ability of Japanese horses wherever in the world they compete. We saw the first Japanese horses run here in 2006 and they could scarcely have made a bigger impression in our most coveted race, the Melbourne Cup (Gr.1, 3200m), when Delta Blues (Dance In The Dark) and Pop Rock (Helissio) were able to quinella the race.
“We did not see any more Japanese horses here until last year when the mare Hana’s Goal (Orewa Matteruze) captured the All Aged Stakes (Gr.1, 1400m) in the Autumn and then in the spring ill-fated Admire Rakti (Heart’s Cry) was such an impressive winner of the Caulfield Cup (Gr.1, 2400m). Japanese horses are typically sound and tough and Real Impact fits the description perfectly, having first raced as a two-year-old and still going strong as a seven-year-old (to Southern Hemisphere time) after 26 starts which have resulted in five wins and six placings. His other career highlight win was achieved at three in the 2011 Yasuda Kinen (Gr.1, 1600m).
“Real Impact is one of 18 Group One winners by Japan’s reigning champion sire Deep Impact (Sunday Silence), perhaps best known for the deeds of his wonderful daughter Gentildonna, twice winner of the Japan Cup (Gr.1, 2400m). Gentildonna is one of four daughters of Deep Impact (the others are Marcellina, Ayusan and Harp Star) to have won the Oka Sho (Gr.1, 1600m), Japan’s One Thousand Guineas, while she additionally captured the Yushun Himba (Gr.1, 2400m), Japan’s Oaks.”
“Another daughter of Deep Impact, Beauty Parlour, won a classic in France, the 2012 Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (Gr.1, 1600m), but the sire has also left many top class male runners, notably Deep Brillante and Kizuna, both winners of Japan’s Derby, the Tokyo Yushun (Gr.1, 2400m). Much was expected of Deep Impact as a sire after he retired to stud in 2007 following a truly illustrious racing career in Japan where he was twice voted Horse of the Year and recorded 12 wins and a second in 13 starts. There was national disappointment, though, when Deep Impact ventured to France to contest the 2006 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Gr.1, 2400m), famously failing to finish.”
“At home Deep Impact captured three classics, the Satsuki Sho (JPN Gr.1, 2000m), Tokyo Yushun (JPN Gr.1, 2400m) and the Kikuka Sho (JPN Gr.1, 3000m) as well as the Tenno Sho-Spring (Gr.1, 3200m), the Takarazuka Kinen (Gr.1, 2200m), the Japan Cup (Gr.1, 2400m) and the 2006 Arima Kinen (JPN Gr.1, 2500m) at his final race start. Even though he never won at a distance shorter than 2000 metres, Deep Impact appears to pass on to his progeny a measure of speed as well as class with many, like Real Impact, best suited at around 1600 metres.”