Dirt Stars to Be Tested in Tokyo Daishoten

Wonder Acute is among a 12-horse field set for one of Japan's top races on dirt.

After a runner-up effort in the Japan Cup Dirt (Jpn-I) earlier this month, Wonder Acute returns in the Tokyo Daishoten (Jpn-I) Dec. 29 at the National Association of Racing’s Ohi Racecourse in search of a breakthrough win at the top level.

Nobuyuki Yamamoto’s resilient Wonder Acute is among 12 contenders for the 2,000-meter (1 1/4-mile) dirt race, which was elevated from a listed stakes to international group I status last year. The event offers a 70-million yen ($813,322) purse.

Although Japanese racing is dominated by turf racing, 15 group stakes on dirt were scheduled in 2012, anchored by the Japan Cup Dirt at Hanshin and the February Stakes (Jpn-I) at Tokyo. Most dirt races are held at NAR racecourses, and the Tokyo Daishoten is an important event toward raising the profile of dirt racing in Japan.

A 6-year-old son of Charismatic, Wonder Acute has won or placed in 17 of 28 career starts and overcame a leg fracture in 2010 to be competitive at the highest level, placing four times in the group I category. He finished second to Smart Falcon in last year’s edition of the Tokyo Daishoten following a runner-up finish to Transcend in the 2011 Japan Cup Dirt.

Wonder Acute began 2012 with a third in the February Stakes (Jpn-I) but was sidelined for 5 1/2 months for a popped splint. He gave a powerful display in his comeback in November, scoring by five lengths over a strong field that included Transcend and February Stakes winner Testa Matta in the JBC Classic. Following up in the Japan Cup Dirt Dec. 2, he uncoiled a powerful turn of foot to take second, 3 1/2 lengths behind Nihonpiro Ours.

Koji Maeda’s two-time Japan Cup Dirt winner Transcend is winless in four starts this season. The 6-year-old Wild Rush horse, winner of the 2011 February Stakes and runner-up in the Emirates Airline Dubai World Cup (UAE-I), comes in off a last-place finish in seeking to become the first horse to score three wins in the Japan Cup Dirt after racing close to the leader early and then fading out of contention.

Darley’s four-time NAR Horse of the Year Furioso, an 8-year-old by Brian’s Time, will close his career in the Tokyo Daishoten before heading to stud at Darley Japan.

Furioso has six wins in races considered group I events in Japan, including the Teio Sho (2008 and 2010), Zen Nippon Nisai Yushun (2006), and Japan Dirt Derby (2007). He was honored as an NAR champion every year from the age of two to seven and is the highest NAR earner ever with a $8,933,051 bankroll.

Furioso will be making his first start since finishing second to Espoir City in the Kashiwa Kinen on May 2 at Funabashi.

Yushun Horse’s Espoir City, a two-winner winner of the Japan Racing Association’s best dirt horse in 2009 and 2010, will look to rebound from a 10th-place finish as second-favorite in the Japan Cup Dirt. The 7-year-old by Gold Allure, who has two wins and three seconds from seven starts this season, set a fast pace but had nothing left at top of the stretch. Prior to that, he won the Mile Championship Nambu Hai by four lengths on Oct. 8 at Morioka.

Yosimi Ota’s Roman Legend, a 4-year-old Special Week colt, enjoyed a six-race win streak, including a pair of group III victories, prior to a fourth-place finish in the Japan Cup Dirt in his group I debut after mounting a strong late charge from mid-field.