The JRA’s mile division has been open this year, but could a candidate emerge at Kyoto on Sunday to challenge the absent Songline for the champion miler title.

Japan’s autumn season continues apace this weekend with the G1 Mile Championship, a race that always takes some winning and which has often been a source of horses heading to Hong Kong the following month to contest the Mile or the Cup at the International Races.

Serifos won the Mile Championship last year, defeating a bunch of Sunday’s rivals, notably Schnell Meister. That success announced the Mitsu Nakauchida-trained three-year-old as a star in the making, and a repeat of that win as a four-year-old would certainly confirm his place among the world’s best milers.

The rising star

Elton Barows is the horse on the up among the 16 entered for this race, but how much higher can he rise? Like Serifos last year, the colt is a three-year-old in form. The son of Deep Brillante was a slow starter and didn’t break his maiden until his fifth start; that was in April of this year at Hanshin and he hasn’t looked back since, putting together a sequence of four wins on the bounce.

His latest win was his biggest yet, defeating a top-class field to take the G2 Mainichi Okan over 1800m. On paper, the win was impressive, given that he had the two-time Yasuda Kinen winner Songline in second and another G1 winner Schnell Meister in third; but he was in receipt of two and three kilograms, weight-for-age, from those two stars, got first run, and was begging for the line to come as he held on by a nose and a nose.

There’s no Songline on Sunday, but Schnell Meister will be out for revenge with a concession of only one kilogram this time, and, of course, there’s Serifos to contend with as well. Elton Barows is the Classic generation’s big hope, but there is no question he will need to step up again if he’s to nail his first Group 1.

The comeback Kid

When Danon The Kid won the G1 Hopeful Stakes as a juvenile in 2020, Classic expectations were high and few would have predicted that almost three years later he would have gone 14 races without a follow-up win.

To be fair, he bounced back to end his three-year-old campaign with third place in this race. Last year he went one place better, a sound second to Serifos, before placing second behind Romantic Warrior in the G1 Hong Kong Cup.  He was also a good third in this past April’s G1 Osaka Hai, but his last two runs have seen him finish last of five in the G1 QEII Cup at Sha Tin and then 13th in the G1 Takarazuka Kinen over 2200m.

A return to a mile in a race he has performed so well in twice before might be just the ticket, but ‘The Kid’ will have to come right back to his best if he is to grab that elusive win.

The potential champion

Songline has to be the pack leader for this year’s champion miler honours in Japan. But her absence this autumn in favour of a Breeders’ Cup assault, which ended in defeat at Santa Anita, leaves the division looking pretty open.

Serifos can take advantage, and a second successive win in the Mile Championship would do his cause no harm. The son of Daiwa Major had the world at his feet after last year’s win, and there was talk of a trip to Australia before the G1 Dubai Turf was picked as his early-season target.

The four-year-old travelled sweetly in that 1800m contest at Meydan but ran out of stamina to finish fifth. Then to the Yasuda Kinen and a solid second behind Songline before a summer break. A planned return to the G2 Fuji Stakes was shelved when he was affected by the particularly intense summer heat in Japan this year.

Serifos and Damian Lane win the 2022 G1 Mile Championship. (Photo by JRA)

Serifos heading in fresh looks like a strong prospect and a repeat of his best efforts would see him victorious. Despite that, Schnell Meister could well go off favourite for Sunday’s feature, after all, he too is a Group 1 winner, a consistent top-level galloper, and he was a fast-finishing third in the Mainichi Okan last time, the same placing he achieved behind Songline in the Yasuda Kinen.

But a five-year-old with so many defeats on the board, however admirable, is not champion material. Even if he wins, it’s hard to envisage him taking the champion miler title ahead of Songline.

Serifos looks like the only horse capable of doing that, but only if he can emulate the brilliant Taiki Shuttle 25 years ago, the last horse to win the race at ages three and four.


Author: David Morgan from the Asian Racing Report

Read more independent horse racing journalism at Asian Racing Report