A Winter’s Tale From Japan – Starring Leontes and Snow White

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Back in 2005, there was a close finish to the Japanese Oaks, the Yushun Himba at Tokyo, between the fillies Cesario and Air Messiah. Runner-up Air Messiah went on to win the Shuka Sho, the autumn leg of the Japanese fillies’ triple crown, from Rhein Kraft who had won the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) earlier in the season in which Cesario and Air Messiah had finished second and fourth respectively. That loss in the Guineas (she was beaten just a head), proved to be Cesario’s only career defeat in six starts; after her neck win in the Japanese Oaks (video below), she went on to win the American Oaks at Hollywood.

While the on-track rivalry between Cesario and Air Messiah ended when the pair were retired to stud at the end of their three-year-old seasons, ten years later their respective sons – Leontes and Air Spinel – clashed in Japan’s most important race for two-year-old colts, the Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes at Hanshin in December. Remarkably, the two colts replicated the one-two finish of their dams, Leontes coming wide and late (as Cesario had done in the Oaks) to beat Air Spinel by three-quarters of a length (top picture).

There must be a good chance of the pair meeting again in at least one of Japan’s classics in 2016. Leontes is a half-brother to the 2014 Japan Cup winner Epiphaneia who, along with his dam, was the subject of this article from thebreedingshed. The result of the Asahi Hai Futurity begs a question. Has this happened before, that a top race has been fought out by the offspring of a couple of mares who themselves finished first and second in a Group 1 contest?

Besides their respective dams having been rivals, Leontes and Air Spinel share another common bond as they are both sons of the stallion King Kamehameha. The son of Kingamambo won seven of his eight races, notably the 2004 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) in record time, a race record that was broken by his own son Duramente in 2015. It was a particularly good year for King Kamehameha who, in addition to Duramente (also winner of the Satsuki Sho, or 2000 Guineas) and the Oka Sho (1000 Guineas) winner Let’s Go Donki, was also represented by the dual Group 1-winning five-year-old Lovely Day, successful in the Takarazuka Kinen and Tenno Sho (Autumn) as well as finishing third in the Japan Cup.

King Kamehameha was runner-up to Deep Impact in the Japanese sires championship in 2015 for the fourth year running, having topped the list in 2010 (when responsible for that year’s Japan Cup winner Rose Kingdom) and 2011. Although a half-brother to the Santa Anita Derby winner The Deputy, King Kamehameha has an essentially European pedigree on his dam’s side. His dam Manfath was a Shadwell-bred maiden daughter of Last Tycoon and a granddaughter of the Oaks third The Dancer from the family of Blushing Groom.

A valuable outcross, therefore, to the most pervasive bloodline in Japan, it’s no surprise that many of King Kamehameha’s leading performers have been out of Sunday Silence mares. Duramente, Rose Kingdom and Air Spinel all result from that cross, while Leontes, Lovely Day and Let’s Go Donki are all out of mares who are by sons of Sunday Silence. A couple of King Kamehameha’s stallion sons who will, however, also be outcrosses to Sunday Silence are Rulership (from the same family as Duramente – which was the subject of this post) and Japan’s 2013 Horse of the Year, the sprinter Lord Kanaloa, who is out of a Storm Cat mare.

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Another result of a mating between King Kamehameha and a Sunday Silence mare is the four-year-old filly Buchiko (above) who gained the third and biggest win of her career (all on dirt at Kyoto) earlier in January. That win caught many an eye around the world on account of her unusual colouring for a thoroughbred. Buchiko’s own dam was also striking in appearance; the translation of her name Shirayukihime – ‘snow white’ – aptly describes her. Further back in her female line, though, it’s plain old bays and browns, including her great grandam Storm And Sunshine who won the Test Stakes at Saratoga.

[Images of Leontes/Air Spinel and Buchiko courtesy of Ogiyoshisan]