JAPAN: The Nakayama Grand Jump, the biggest steeplechase event in spring, span off from the biannual Nakayama Daishogai steeplechase races in 1999. The history of the Nakayama Daishogai dates back to 1934 when the two races, one each in April and December, were created for the purpose of making them the most prestigious and attractive races in steeplechase racing, just like the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) is in flat racing.
In 2000, one year after the Nakayama Grand Jump received its current name, the race also became an international event. In the same year, seven foreign runners from five countries took part. Boca Boca (IRE, by Mandalus) from France finished second to Gokai (JPN, by Judge Angelucci). Between 2000 and 2010 when the Nakayama Grand Jump was an invitational event, St. Steven (NZ, by Hula Town) became the first foreign contingent to claim the title in 2002. He finished third in the following year while Australian contender Karasi (IRE, by Kahyasi) became the only horse to win three consecutive titles in 2005, 2006 and 2007. In addition to the Nakayama Grand Jump, the Nakayama Daishogai also became an international event beginning this year, opening its doors to foreign contenders.
Owing to the devastating earthquake which hit the northeastern part of Japan in March, all races at Nakayama that were scheduled for spring were either postponed or shifted to other racecourses. Nakayama Grand Jump was also rescheduled from April to July. Due to the track condition at this time of the year, the turf course is positioned slightly different than it is in April and also the distance of the race was extended from 4,250 to 4,260 meters, reflecting the change.
The Nakayama Grand Jump features 12 jumps over the figure-of-eight-shaped course, which includes five up-and-downs over the banks and three hurdles set on the outside turf towards the final stretch. The 310-metre uphill stretch before the wire also is quite a test for many of the runners especially after running at a solid pace throughout the race.
After Ginolad (AUS, by Perugino), who replaced Karasito represent Australia in 2009 and finished sixth after coming off a tenth place in his prep race (the Pegasus Jump Stakes) in Japan the 2010 Nakayama Grand Jump took place without the participation of a foreign contender and none participated this year although four jumpers from England, Ireland and Australia were selected to run.
Bashi Ken (JPN) was viewed to be a powerful candidate this year landing the Nakayama Daishogai (J-G1) last December and achieving the 2010 Best Steeplechase Horse award, however was sidelined due to a bowed tendon. Instead Open Garden (JPN), son of two-time winner Gokai, was sent to post as race favourite with the Hanshin Spring Jump (J-G2) title under his belt, along with Meiner Neos (JPN) as second pick after finishing third in the previous Nakayama Daishogai. With a win in 2007 and four seconds in the Nakayama Daishogai, Merci A Time (JPN) was also among this year’s line-up in his fifth shot for the Nakayama Grand Jump title after finishing second, third and fourth in previous attempts.
Second-favorite Meiner Neos claimed this year’s Nakayama Grand Jump title marking his first grade-race title in his 43rd career start. The Stay Gold horse has now two wins and a second among his three starts this season.
The 12-horse field broke smoothly with Mejiro Rafiki setting the pace most of the journey after inheriting the lead from T M Toppazure at the first corner. Coming out of the first dip, Mejiro Rafiki stretched his lead to five to six lengths to L Junction in second as Suzuka Spencer, T M Toppazure and Takara Boss followed a few lengths from that. Meiner Neos trailed in the rear but gradually increased position up to mid-division by fence no.6. Open Garden took a ground-saving trip in mid-pack close to Merci A Time and advanced to third as the field changed hands. Still on the lead down the backstretch was Mejiro Rafiki two lengths to Open Garden and Merci A Time a length behind that, while Meiner Neos advanced to fourth. Open Garden gradually ran out of steam as Merci A Time cleared fence no. 9 in second, and Meiner Neos edging up to fourth at the last corner.
At the final jump, Mejiro Rafiki tumbled over after landing and unseated his rider. Suddenly on the lead, fifth choice Merci A Time fought willingly down the lane but lacked the final kick, surrendering the title to Meiner Neos who demonstrated a furious drive to post a 1-1/4 length victory. Pressing the pace in the early stages, Takara Boss entered the stretch sixth after settling in mid-division, and showed an impressive charge down the straight capturing Open Garden 50 metres out to finish a 1/2 length in front for third.