Red le Zele and Cafe Pharoah Lead Sunday's February Stakes in Japan for First Automatic Berth into 2021 Longines Breeders' Cup Classic
Photo of Red le Zele (#3), winning the Negishi Stakes, courtesy of the Japan Racing Association
TOKYO (Feb. 19, 2021) – TokyoHorseRacing Co. Ltd.’s Red le Zele (JPN) and Koichi Nishikawa’s Cafe Pharoah (JPN) lead the 16-horse field for Sunday’s 38th running of the 1-mile, $1.84 million February Stakes (G1) on dirt at Tokyo Racecourse. The February Stakes winner will earn the first automatic qualifying berth for this year’s $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) to be awarded through the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series.
The Breeders’ Cup Challenge is an international series of stakes races whose winners receive automatic starting positions and fees paid into a corresponding race of the 2021 Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which is scheduled to be held on Nov. 5-6 at Del Mar racetrack in Del Mar, California.
As a part of the benefits of the Challenge Series, the Breeders’ Cup will pay the entry fees for the winner of the February Stakes to start in the 1 ¼-mile Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic. Breeders’ Cup also will provide a $40,000 travel allowance for all starters based outside of North America to compete in the World Championships. The Challenge winner must be nominated to the Breeders’ Cup program by the pre-entry deadline of Oct. 25 to receive the rewards.
The February Stakes, which is the first Group 1 race in Japan this year, will be run counterclockwise over the Tokyo track. The race will be televised on TVG, with an approximate post time of 10:40 p.m. PT on Saturday in the U.S.
Red le Zele, a 5-year-old son of Lord Kanaloa (JPN), trained by Takayuki Yasuda, has won two of his last three races. In his most recent start on Jan. 31, Red le Zele surged to the lead in the final furlong to win the 7-furlong Negishi Stakes (G3) at Tokyo by a head as the 5-2 favorite over Wonder Lider (JPN).
Yasuda, who saddled Transcend (JPN) in 2011 and Grape Brandy (JPN) in 2013 to victories in the February Stakes, commented on Red le Zele’s running style and maturity to JRA.com: “He’s comfortable settling towards the rear in a race, and last time, despite not having a lot of room in the home straight, he finished off strongly. He was a little weak as a younger horse, but now that he’s become bigger, he’s shown he’s capable of winning at the top level.”
A winner of eight of 16 starts, Red le Zele closed out 2020 with a win in the 7-furlong Muromachi Stakes (G3) at Kyoto on Oct. 24 and followed that effort with a second-place finish by a neck in the 6-furlong Capella Stakes (G3) at Nakayama on Dec. 13.
Red le Zele will break from post 16 under jockey Yuga Kawada.
Making his 4-year-old debut, Cafe Pharoah, trained by Noriyuki Hori, won twice at the race distance over the Tokyo track last year, taking the two Kentucky Derby (G1) qualifying races, the listed Hyacinth Stakes and the Unicorn Stakes (G3). Bred in Kentucky by the late Paul Pompa Jr., Cafe Pharoah, a bay son of 2015 Triple Crown and Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, American Pharoah, out of the More Than Ready mare Mary’s Follies, suffered his first defeat as the favorite in the Japan Dirt Derby on July 8 at Ohi, finishing seventh. He rebounded on Oct. 3 to win the 1 3/16-mile Sirius Stakes (G3) at Chukyo. Stepping into Group 1 company for the first time, Cafe Pharoah went off as the second choice in the 1 1/8-mile Champions Cup at Chukyo on Dec. 6, but could not sustain a drive coming from off the pace, and wound up sixth.
Cafe Pharoah will be ridden by Christophe Lemaire, breaking from post three.
The 7-year-old Sunrise Nova (JPN) will be making his fourth start in the February Stakes for owner Takao Matsuoka and trainer Hidetaka Otonashi. He finished third in last year’s race, beaten 3 ¾ lengths. A chestnut son of Gold Allure (JPN) out of Bright Sapphire (JPN) by Kentucky Derby and Travers Stakes (G1) winner Thunder Gulch, Sunrise Nova won two group stakes races last year. He captured the 7-furlong Procyon Stakes (G3) on July 12 at Hanshin and the 1-mile Tokyo Chunichi Sports Hai Musashino Stakes at Tokyo on Nov. 14. However, he could not retain that form in his next start, the Champions Cup, when he finished 12th. Fuma Matsuwaka will ride Sunrise Nova, breaking from post nine.
Another 7-year-old, Shigeo Takeda’s chestnut homebred Inti (JPN), won the 2019 February Stakes, prevailing by a neck over Gold Dream (JPN). Trained by Kenji Nonaka, Inti fared poorly in defending his title last year, winding up 14th of 16 as the second choice. In last December’s Champions Cup at Chukyo, he raced close to the pace and gained the lead inside the final furlong before finishing third, beaten 2 ¾ lengths. In his first start of this year, Inti did not like the sloppy track at Chukyo in the 1 1/8-mile Tokai TV Hai Tokai Stakes (G2) and finished 12th. The renowned Yutaka Take, who has ridden five winners of the February Stakes, has the mount, breaking from post two.
A horse that did enjoy the sloppy track in the Tokai Stakes was Tadakuni Sugiyama’s 5-year-old homebred Auvergne (JPN), who splashed home to a 1 ¾-length victory for his third-consecutive win. A bay son of Smart Falcon (JPN), trained by Masayuki Nishimura, Auvergne captured two listed stakes, the Fukushima Minyu Cup at Fukushima on Nov. 1 and the Betelgeuse Stakes at Hanshin on Dec. 20, prior to winning the Tokai Stakes. Auvergne has seven wins in 19 starts. Auvergne will be ridden by Genki Maruyama from post 14.
Koichiro Yamaguchi’s Arctos (JPN) has won eight of 19 starts, and is another runner coming out of the Negishi Stakes, in which he finished fourth for trainer Toru Kurita. “He’s a horse that likes to get fully wound up in the home straight but last time he wasn’t able to really get going soon enough, so it was tough for him,” said Kurita of the 6-year-old son of Admire Aura (JPN). “But overall I was satisfied with the race.”
Arctos’s lone win last year was in the Mile Championship Nambu Hai at Morioka on Oct. 12, when he defeated last year’s February Stakes winner Mozu Ascot. Arctos will be ridden by Hironobu Tanabe from post six.
Yoshinari Yamamoto’s 8-year-old Wonder Lider closed from last on the far outside in the 16-horse field of the Negishi Stakes, and just missed catching Red le Zele at the wire. A bay son of Statue of Liberty, Wonder Lider has finished in the top three a total of 16 times, and has seven wins in his 35-race career. Trained by Shogo Yasuda, Wonder Lider captured the 1-mile Tokyo Chunichi Sports Hai Musashino Stakes in November 2019 over the Tokyo course. Wonder Lider will break from post seven under jockey Norihiro Yokoyama.
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