Defending winner Gold Ship and Japanese star mare Gentildonna are among an outstanding lineup for the Takarazuka Kinen (Jpn-I) June 29 at Hanshin racecourse.
In the same fashion as the Arima Kinen (The Grand Prix) (Jpn-I) at year's end, the field of the Takarazuka Kinen is chosen largely by fan ballot. The top ten choices by the fans receive an automatic place in a maximum field of 18 in the 2,200-meter (about 1 3/8-mile) turf event.
This year the top three horses in the balloting were Gold Ship, Win Variation, and Gentildonna, all set to meet in the 1 3/8-mile event that is a qualifying race for the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) later this year at Santa Anita Park.
Eiichi Kobayashi's 5-year-old Gold Ship, who won last year's Takarazuka Kinen by 3 1/2 lengths, received the most votes for this year's race. The son of Stay Gold, trained by Naosuke Sugai, comes into this year's race off a seventh place finish in the Tenno Sho (Spring) (Jpn-I). He has won four of five starts at Hanshin, most recently the Hanshin Daoshoten Stakes (Jpn-II) at 1 5/8 miles in March.
Sunday's Racing's Gentildonna, a six-time group one winner, won last year's Japan Cup (Jpn-I) by a nose over Denim and Ruby. Since then, the bay daughter of Deep Impact
, trained by Sei Ishizaka, finished sixth in the Kyoto Kinen (Jpn-II) on February 16, prior to winning the Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-I) a month later at Meydan, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over Cirrus des Aigles
. A winner of 8 of 13 career starts, Gentildonna was third in last year's Takarazuka Kinen.
"Everything looks in order and there's nothing I'm concerned about her physically," said Ishizaka. "If the track is fast, I think she'll put in a good run."
Win Co. Ltd.'s 6-year-old Win Variation received the second most votes from the fans. A tough campaigner who has finished second in four group one races, Win Variation has been battling injuries the past two years, but has started out strong in 2014. He won the 1 1/2-mile Nikkei Sho Stakes (Jpn-II) March 29 at Nakayama by 1 3/4 lengths and followed up that effort with just a quarter-length defeat to Fenomeno in the Tenno Sho (Spring) May 4. Last December, Win Variation, a bay son of Heart's Cry trained by Masahiro Matsunaga, was second to Orfevre in the Arima Kinen.
The most recent Breeders' Cup contenders from Japan are Red Desire
, who finished fourth in the 2010 Filly and Mare Turf (gr. IT), and Espoir City
, who was 10th in that year's Classic (gr. I).