Japanese superstar Kitasan Black is poised for redemption when he starts an odds-on favourite in Sunday’s Takarazuka Kinen at Hanshin.
The four-year-old finished third in last year’s renewal but has gone to another level this season and is now chasing a third straight Grade One victory having taken out the Osaka Hai and Tenno Sho (Spring) at his past two starts.
Kitasan Black is the standout in the 11-horse field, which only features three others (Satono Crown, Mikki Queen and Gold Actor) who have won at the top level before.
Trainer Hisashi Shimizu admits the Tenno Sho (Spring), where he set a new track record, took a fair bit out of his charge, but is confident he has recovered and will show his best.
“I think he ran a very strong race in the Tenno Sho (Spring). He was more powerful that I had imagined he would be and he really has matured into an incredible horse. He’s really something,” he said.
“After that race, he did get a lot leaner and he was somewhat tired. It’s not that he’s ailing at all, so we did bring him back into training early. He’s sturdy and recovers well. He’s outstanding in many ways, including his heart and lung capacity.
“I’ve laid out my plan counting back from raceday and, so far, all has gone according to that plan. His workout last week went well and he’s getting good times as well. I think he looks good. He’s a horse that the more you push him, the more he’ll do. He gets himself ready in many ways. This week, there was no need to push him that much. He’d been a lot tenser last year. He’s much calmer now and he looks good. Even though the ground was slow, he quickened nicely. It’s a tight schedule but he’s in good shape.”
Shimizu says there is no comparison to the horse who was beaten by Marialite last year and the one heading to the races on Sunday.
“Last year’s results were frustrating, but he has become much stronger since then. He’s a different horse now,” he said. “If he can win three Grade One races in a row, he’ll go down in history. I’m being careful not to overdo it while at the same time still focusing on getting the very best results.”
Surprise Hong Kong Vase winner Satono Crown, who finished sixth in last year’s renewal, is one of Kitasan Black’s main dangers.
Since beating odds-on favourite Highland Reel in December’s Group One at Sha Tin, the stayer won the Grade Two Kyoto Kinen before finishing sixth in the Osaka Hai last start.
Star jockey Mirco Demuro takes the ride from barrier 11, but the stable understands the favourite will be hard to beat.
“There is one very strong horse in this field, but the small number of runners will make racing easier,” assistant trainer Kazutomo Mori said.
The Jockey Club is simulcasting the Takarazuka Kinen, with the race to get underway at 2.40pm.