Favored Apapane overtook pacesetter Oken Sakura in the final strides to claim the 70th running of the Oka Sho (Jpn-I), Japan's equivalent of the English One Thousand Guineas under the cherry blossoms in full bloom at Hanshin Racecourse April 11.
In winning the $2 million event for 3-year-old fillies, the first of five Japanese Racing Association Classics held each year, Apapane set a race record. She completed the 1,600 meters (about one mile) in 1:33.3 over a firm turf course, breaking the mark of 1:33.5 set in 2005 by Rhein Kraft.
Under clear skies before a crowd of 57,845, Masayoshi Ebina rode Apapane, Japan's champion 2-year-old filly last year, to victory for trainer Sakae Kunieda and owner and breeder Kaneko Makoto Holdings. The Japanese-bred bay is by King Kamehameha--Salty Bid, by Salt Lake.
Apapane broke smoothly from post 9 in the field of 18 and stalked Oken Sakura in fourth or fifth behind a brisk pace (:45.8 for the first half-mile). Oken Sakura maintained the lead around the last bend and was edging away from the pack at the top of the stretch. Apapane, pinned down at the rail into the stretch, altered course to the outside for racing room and responded willingly when asked by Ebina. She overtook Oken Sakura just before the wire to post a half-length win.
Oken Sakura, the third choice in the field ridden by Katsumi Ando, held onto second by a neck over the outsider A Shin Returns, who charged home tenaciously behind the winner for jockey Yuichi Fukunaga.
Apapane claimed her second grade I victory after capturing last December's Hanshin Juvenile Fillies, also contested at 1,600 (one mile) meters. She tuned up for the Oka Sho with a second-place finish in the Tulip Sho (Jpn-III) at 1,600 meters last month.
The Oka Sho, together with the Yushun Himba (Jpn-I), the Japanese Oaks at 2,400 meters, and the Shuka Sho (Jpn-I) at 2,000 meters, comprise the fillies’ version of the “Triple Crown" in Japan. Last year's Oka Sho was won by Buena Vista, who finished second in last month's Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-I) behind Dar Re Mi on World Cup night.