Joao Moreira and the might of Godolphin stand in the way of Hong Kong raider Lucky Bubbles in Sunday’s Group One Sprinters Stakes at Nakayama.
The three-time Hong Kong champion jockey has been a dominant force since moving to Japan and will partner second-elect Nac Venus, while Godolphin’s Fine Needle is the $2.50 favourite in early markets after three wins in his past four starts. The Francis Lui Kin-wai-trained Lucky Bubbles is rated a $16 hope.
The Magic Man, who won 31 races from 75 rides in his first month, is chasing his maiden Group One victory in the Land of the Rising Sun and Nac Venus looks a strong chance after taking out the Group Three Keeneland Cup at Sapporo in August.
“There’s no change since her last race, and since the spring she seems to have filled out more,” Nac Venus’ trainer Hiroaki Sugiura said.
“If another horse takes up the running in the race that’s fine, but it’s also all right for her to make the pace herself.
“I’m not sure how the track will be on the day, but it’s good to have the services of [Moreira], and I’ll be leaving things up to him.”
There are two 1,200m Group Ones in Japan each year and Fine Needle is trying to become the fifth horse to complete the double after winning the Takamatsunomiya Kinen at Chukyo in March.
The five-year-old has won three of his past four races, with his only blemish coming in Hong Kong when fourth to Ivictory in April’s Group One Chairman’s Sprint Prize.
“Fine Needle is in great form. His trainer and jockey are very happy with him, while he has been drawn in stall eight of the 16 runners, which we consider ideal,” Godolphin’s Japanese president Harry Sweeney said.
“However, with such a large field in a six-furlong sprint and having to navigate one bend, he will need normal racing luck.
“We see Nac Venus, ridden by Joao Moreira, as a very significant threat, while there are some other clouds on the horizon, literally – Typhoon Trami is due to hit the Japanese archipelago on Sunday so a lot of rain could influence the outcome.
“In Japan, a change in the going is not allowed as a reason to withdraw so even if the going became heavy all 16 runners will still go to post.”
Red Falx has won the past two renewals of the Sprinters Stakes and is on the third line of betting at $10, alongside Let’s Go Donki and Ares Barows, but the veteran has not won since and has to overcome the outside barrier.
“In my mind, I see him running a similar race to last year,” trainer Tomohito Ozeki said.
“The horse has a chance to win the race for the third time, so for the staff and everyone involved, I’m hoping for the best.”
The Jockey Club is simulcasting six races from Nakayama on Sunday, with the feature getting underway at 2.40pm.