Gentildonna winning the Japanese Oaks.

Gentildonna winning the Japanese Oaks.

Kate Hunter

Gentildonna Impacts Japanese Racing

Deep Impact filly is one race away from completing Japan's Triple Crown for fillies.

In late May 2012, I'll Have Another  is not the only young Thoroughbred who now stands on the verge of a Triple Crown sweep. Halfway around the world, the Japanese filly Gentildonna is one race away from completing her country's Triple Crown for fillies, having added a victory May 20 in the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks, Jpn-I) to her April 8 score in the Oka Sho (Japanese One Thousand Guineas, Jpn-I). If she can win the Shuka Sho (Jpn-I) in October for Katsumi Yoshida's Sunday Racing Co., she will become only the fourth runner in Japanese history to sweep the Japanese filly classics; the most recent to do so was the brilliant Apapane in 2010.

Bred by Northern Racing, Gentildonna is from the second crop of two-time Japanese Horse of the Year Deep Impact. Considered by many to be the best racehorse ever bred in Japan, Deep Impact swept the 2005 Japanese Triple Crown and won 12 of his 14 starts before retiring to Shadai Stallion Station, where he served some 230 mares during his first season. His eagerly awaited first crop contained 2011 Oka Sho winner Marcellina, and the high-class miler Real Impact, winner of the 2011 Yasuda Kinen (Jpn-I) at the expense of Apapane. Joining Gentildonna in Deep Impact’s second crop was 2011 Japanese champion juvenile filly Joie de Vivre. The stallion has been represented so far in 2012 by 10 group stakes winners including undefeated Beauty Parlour, winner of this year's Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (French One Thousand Guineas, Fr-I), who made him the first Japanese-based stallion to sire the winner of a major European classic. As if that were not enough, another of those group winners is Verxina, runner-up to Gentildonna in both the Oka Sho and the Yushun Himba.

Great hopes attended Deep Impact's retirement to stud not only because of his racing performance but because he is the final great son of Sunday Silence, a horse who became a cultural icon in Japan during his own stud career. Although the 1989 U.S. Horse of the Year and 13-time Japanese leading sire has begotten the important stallions Agnes Tachyon (who died in June 2009 after leading the Japanese sire list in 2008), Dance in the Dark, Manhattan Cafe, Stay Gold, Fuji Kiseki, and Neo Universe, none of his sons have come close to his own dominance. But so far, Deep Impact appears to be going in the right direction; with only 2- and 3-year-olds racing last year, he ranked fourth among all Japanese sires by money won, according to the Japan Racing Association.

Deep Impact was not only Sunday Silence's best son on the race course but is also one of the best bred. His dam, the Irish-bred Wind in Her Hair, won the 1995 Aral Pokal (Ger-I) and ran second to the excellent filly Balanchine in the 1994 Energizer Epsom Oaks (Eng-I). The highweight older female of 1995 in the 11-14 furlong division in Germany, she is also the dam of Japanese stakes winner Black Tide, a full brother to Deep Impact; New Beginning, by Agnes Tachyon; and Kentucky-bred grade III winner Veil of Avalon (by Thunder Gulch). Wind in Her Hair is by the important European stallion Alzao. She is a half sister to 1986 Vineland Handicap (gr. IIIT) winner Capo Di Monte (by Final Straw), both mares out of the regally bred Burghclere (by English Horse of the Year Busted out of dual European classic winner Highclere), a winning closely-bred half sister to 1981 English champion juvenile filly Height of Fashion (by Busted’s son Bustino, a multiple champion in England). An excellent broodmare, Height of Fashion produced two solid sires in 1989 General Accident Two Thousand Guineas and Ever Ready Epsom Derby (both Eng-I) winner Nashwan (by Blushing Groom) and multiple group II winner Unfuwain.

Gentildonna is out of 2005 Sky Bet Cheveley Park Stakes (Eng-I) winner Donna Blini, who had previously produced Japanese group III winner Donau Blue (also by Deep Impact). A daughter of 1998 TNT International Aviation July Stakes (Eng-III) winner Bertolini (by Danzig), who has sired just 15 stakes winners from 1,125 foals of racing age, Donna Blini was produced from the winning Lyphard's Special mare Cal Norma's Lady, whose dam June Darling (by 1978 William Hill Middle Park Stakes, Eng-I, winner Junius) never raced. The dam of June Darling, the Darling Boy mare Beau Darling, won only once from 23 starts, but her dam Fair Astronomer was ranked as the best juvenile filly of 1962 in Ireland.

Given the fact that Donna Blini was not only a quick, precocious filly herself but had a pedigree distinctly tilted towards speedy, precocious types, it seems somewhat surprising that Gentildonna is the first of Deep Impact's offspring to win a group race at more than a mile. But given his own ability to stay up to 3,200 meters, perhaps a bigger surprise is that he took as long as he did to get a staying runner. It didn't take him nearly as long for him to get the next one, as Deep Brillante captured the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby, Jpn-I) on May 27. Furthermore, there will be plenty of other opportunities down the road as Deep Impact makes his own mark on Japanese breeding.