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Some thoughts from Japan

Chad and I were lucky enough recently to gain a real insight into Japanese racing with a visit to Japan alongside Kerry Murphy, chief executive of the European Breeders Fund.

Viewing sales stock at Shadai Farm

A sense of any industry can certainly be gleaned by watching international racing and sales from afar, as we have done for many years, but a true picture can never really formed without an actual visit to the country. 

The importance of Sunday Silence and now his son Deep Impact to the Japanese Thoroughbred cannot be underestimated – that much is well known globally and was driven home again on an international stage last year when Deep Impact supplied the Newmarket 2,000 Guineas winner Saxon Warrior and Heart’s Cry was well represented in the US by Woodward Stakes winner Yoshida.

And we all know how much Japanese bloodstock, in particular the Yoshida family, has benefitted from an influx of high-performing European and American racemares.

But a visit to Japan revealed much more. An afternoon at the Tokyo Yushun illustrated how the sport has attracted a fan base that is tremendously informed as it is vibrant. And a trip to Hokkaido underlined how the main aim remains the production of a supreme athlete, rather than for a date in the sale ring. Rarely will high end breeders embrace a horse who retires after two seasons of racing. Instead it is a long career, one that invariably includes a strong performance over two miles, that is often influential in dictating a horse’s popularity with breeders.

Below are some thoughts and shots from our hugely informative time in Japan.


The field for the Tokyo Yushun pass by the stands for the first time (pictured right).

Over 110,000 people made the trip to Tokyo racecourse to watch Roger Barows spring an upset and become the fifth Japanese Derby winner for Deep Impact.

His dam, Little Book, was sourced at Tattersalls by Keisuke Onishi of the JS Company after her half-sister, Cheveley Park Stakes winner Donna Blini, had produced Japanese star Gentildonna – such is the small nature of today’s bloodstock world.

Race favourite, the Japanese 2,000 Guineas winner Saturnalia blatantly failed to stay in fourth. However, it was wonderful to see the high regard that the crowd held him in, illustrated by the huge cheer for him as he headed to post.




A tremendous few days visiting Shadai, Northern and Oiwake Farms was naturally highlighted by Deep Impact.


A Japanese icon on the track, 17-year-old Deep Impact commanded a fee of 40,000,000yen (£290,000) this year as he continues to remain Japan’s answer to Galileo. Unfortunately, his season was cut short by a neck injury, but on the track it remains business as usual, with Roger Barows’ victory in the Tokyo Yushun helping to ensure that his sire heads into the summer with a healthy advantage over his rivals as he goes in pursuit of an eighth consecutive Japanese sires’ championship.  It is to be hoped that he is back in service next season.


Among those poised to assume Deep Impact’s mantle when the time comes is Almond Eye’s sire Lord Kanaloa, a different kind of animal who excelled over 6f, and Harbinger, pictured below.


The runaway King George winner of 2010, Harbinger was a later maturing middle-distance horse in Europe who had failed to run as a juvenile. And although he was Japan’s leading first-crop sire by earnings in 2014, a first crop of 148 foals contained just three stakes winners. Indeed, Harbinger was a slow burner; by the time his first crop turned five in 2017, he had just four stakes winners to his credit. Yet for one reason or another, he has since enjoyed a major upturn in fortunes to the extent that his stud record today comprises five G1 winners led by Deirdre and Persian Knight – each of the quintet hail from his third and fourth crops foaled in 2014 and 2015. Would our markets have been quite so forgiving?


Another son of Sunday Silence, Heart’s Cry (doesn’t he look like his sire), has forged an excellent domestic record while striking international notoriety as the sire of Woodward Stakes winner Yoshida – hopefully Yoshida will one day be available to Kentucky breeders.


In the meantime, encouragement can be gleaned from the start made by an older son of Heart’s Cry in Just A Way, pictured with Chad whose three Group 1 wins included the Dubai Duty Free. He already has a Classic performer to his credit in Velox and was recently showcased to an international audience via the American exploits of his first-crop son Master Fencer.


A multiple champion and fan favourite – Orfevre. This charismatic son of Stay Gold, a 12-time winner, came close to providing Japan with Arc glory when second to Solemia in the 2012 renewal and has come up with two top-class performers – Lucky Lilac and Epoca d’Oro in his first crop.



One horse we were all impressed with was Daiwa Major, a horse with real power to him. A fusion of two true Shadai forces in Sunday Silence and Northern Taste, he is an excellent source of two-year-olds and milers – indeed he remains the only stallion to break Deep Impact’s hold on the leading 2yo sires’ list and has a current star to his credit in recent NHK Mile Cup winner Admire Mars.


It was also a real pleasure to see Kitasan Black (pictured right).

So typical of the array of stallions we were treated to seeing, in that he is a big, strong, scopey horse with the action and balance to go with it, Kitasan Black won no fewer than seven Group 1 races including the Japan Cup and Arima Kinen.

By Deep Impact’s older brother Black Tide, he covered 130 mares in his first season and his first crop of foals are sure to be a major attraction at the upcoming JRHA Select Sale.

Among the sons of Deep Impact waiting in the wings are Kizuna, the Japanese Derby winner who later travelled to France to take the Prix Niel, and Real Steel, who was new to Shadai this season.

There is seemingly a fine word for the progeny of Kizuna, whose first crop made up to 50,760,000yen (£370,000/$470,000) at the recent Chiba 2YO Sale.

And he has duly been quick off the mark as the sire of a winner, Luce Della Vita, on the JRA circuit at Hanshin from just two runners to date. A horse with a fair bit of damsire Storm Cat about him, he’s one to keep an eye on.

As for Real Steel (pictured left), this tough performer enjoyed his finest moment when successful in the Dubai Turf.

A particularly striking individual, he also shuttles to Arrowfield Stud alongside fellow Shadai residents Real Impact and Mikki Isle.

It also doesn’t hurt his chances that he descends directly from Miesque, making him a close relation to leading sire Kingmambo.


Rulership (pictured right), a son of King Kamehameha, won the Queen Elizabeth II Cup. He came up with Japanese St Leger winner Kiseki in his first crop and has also had the odd winner in Europe.

As a member of the Kingmambo sire line, he remains a valuable outcross to the Sunday Silence line, which continues to dominate Japanese breeding – look no further than the country’s premier auction, the upcoming JRHA July Select Sale, in which approximately 80 lots catalogued carry inbreeding to the great stallion, up from 63 in 2018.

Similar comments also apply to Harbinger and Lord Kanaloa, both proven outcrosses for Sunday Silence.

Therefore hopes also naturally run high for the prospects of Drefong and Mind Your Biscuits, two real American speedsters who have joined the Shadai roster in the past two seasons. Drefong covered 207 mares last year while Mind Your Biscuits has reportedly been similarly popular in his debut season this spring.




Another horse we were all impressed with – Epiphaneia. Out of top racemare Cesario and thus a half-brother to Saturnalia, Epiphaneia defeated Just A Way in the 2014 Japan Cup. His first crop of 159 foals are two-year-olds this year.


In addition to Harbinger, Shadai is also home to another King George winner in Novellist. A typically handsome dark brown son of Monsun, Novellist was recently represented by his first stakes winner when Last Draft won the Keisei Hai at Nakayama.



We also had an insightful visit to the Breeders’ Stallion Station.


Dirt star Copano Rickey, a 16-time winner in total, was extremely popular in his first season, covering a book of 194 mares. A powerful horse, very much in the American mould.


Horse of the Year Symboli Kris S, sire of Epiphaneia. He has a real look of Roberto about him.



Another Horse Of The Year, Jungle Pocket, looking in fine fettle at 21 years



And does it get any more Sunday Silence than this? Black Tide, better known as Deep Impact’s older brother before Kitasan Black came along



Dubai World Cup winner Victoire Pisa


Pre-training at Shadai Farm


A pair of foals from the first crop of Kitasan Black prepare to show. On the left out of G1-placed Nova Hawk. On the right out of Japanese Oaks heroine Erin Court



Viewing sales stock at Shadai Farm


Pre-training at Northern Farm. Approximately 600 horses pass through their system every year


A two-year-old Deep Impact colt out of champion Azeri in pre-training at Northern Farm


Meeting Donna Blini, a Group 1 winner herself for Brian Meehan and the dam of Gentildonna


G1 winner Zazu and her filly by Heart’s Cry


Top Australian filly Yankee Rose and her first foal, a Deep Impact filly



Many thanks to Naohiro Hosoda and Keisuke Onishi for their kind hospitality.

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