Thoroughbreds a Labor of Love for Connections of Japanese Filly and Mare Sprint Hopeful

The Life
Chain of Love shipped in to Keeneland from Japan for trainer Michihiro Ogasa and owner Koji Maeda’s North Hills Farm to compete in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. (Eclipse Sportswire)

There is something special about having one’s homebred horse running in the 2022 Breeders’ Cup. For prominent Japanese businessman Koji Maeda, his North Hills Co. mare Chain of Love is competing in the $1 million Filly and Mare Sprint at Keeneland and is the culmination of years of strategic planning, dreaming, and performances.    

Chain of Love (Eclipse Sportswire)

She is a beautiful chestnut mare with a distinctive personality and is well seasoned in travel.  Her dirt races have been in competition against males. According to Eiji Nonaka, racing manager for North Hills Co., “she is really mentally strong and intelligent.” Her name was selected as “we were thinking about ‘inherited love’ from one person/horse to the next.”

Five-year-old Chain of Love is by the Japanese stallion Heart’s Cry, who was sired by the 1989 Kentucky Derby winner Sunday Silence. Heart’s Cry won the Dubai Sheema Classic in 2006. 

She is the second foal out of the Street Cry mare Fair Ellen, who was purchased by Maeda at the 2010 Keeneland September yearling sale for $225,000. Fair Ellen is from the family of Versailles Treaty, who earned more than $1.2 million and was a four-time Grade 1 winner.  According to Nonaka, Fair Ellen “had placed in multiple short dirt races against colts in her career. She inherited her speed and muscle mass from her dam. [Her sire] Heart’s Cry has proven to be a great stallion in Japan that can produce all kinds of horses. His stamina helps her close as powerfully as she does.”

Maeda started building his dream with the horse industry years ago. Nonaka explains, “As his business grew, he also sponsored Japanese wrestlers. He wanted to build a business successful enough to become a horse owner. And so, he did. [Japan requires a lot of capital and investments to be confirmed by the racing organization over a period of time to confirm you can actually afford racehorse’s care. So, a horse owner license is quite the status symbol in Japan of a successful business.]”

North Hills Farm in Hokkaido, Japan. (Courtesy of North Hills Farm )

“After visiting farms overseas, Mr. Maeda became determined to create the most beautiful farm in Japan, one with top-notch ability to rear top-class racehorses. As things progressed, he turned his focus to developing his own training facility, where modern training practices could be used on his horses.”

A visit to the North Hills Farm website shows a breathtaking beautiful facility established in 1984 on the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan. It is both a breeding farm and a training center.  Currently, North Hills has 70 broodmares. In addition, there are five mares located in Kentucky and five in Europe.  The Daisen Hills Training Center which opened in 2003 as part of North Hills Farm has 190 horses in training.  

Dr. Hiroshi Fukuda, the general manager of North Hills Co. Ltd. Explains, “We breed in the USA because there aren't many stallions in Japan that breed Sunday Silence mares. That's why we send broodmares overseas with Sunday Silence blood. Lani’s dam, Heavenly Romance (Tenno Sho Autumn-Group 1 winner), is by Sunday Silence, and Gendarme's dam, Believe (Sprinters S-Group 1 winner) is also sired by Sunday Silence.” Lani is Maeda’s homebred who made quite a splash during his racing career stateside during the 2016 Triple Crown races. With his striking good looks, he repeatedly proved to be a trackside photographer favorite and came in third in the Belmont Stakes. Lani is now standing stud at Shizunai’s Arrow Stud. His first crop is only 3 years old, and 56% of his starters are winners.

In addition to fan favorite Lani, North Hills Co. was represented by Trailblazer in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Turf. He finished fourth. Another homebred, Contrail, won the Japan Triple Crown in 2020. When asked about their greatest achievements, Nonaka reminisces that “Contrail who won the Triple Crown is probably the first that comes to mind, due to the scale of his success. But for us, each victory and success with our horses is something to cherish and remember.” 

Chain of Love, left, during morning exercise. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Chain of Love is trained by Michihiro Ogasa and has three wins, two seconds, and three thirds from 22 career starts. She initially raced on turf but switched to dirt for her last six starts. She recently won the Enif Stakes at Chukyo Racecourse in Japan. She also came in a strong fourth in the Dubai Golden Shaheen sponsored by Atlantis Dubai in March. In addition, she won the Aqualine Stakes in December 2021 at Nakayama Racecourse.

She travels well, however she dislikes being alone in quarantine. Kate Hunter representing the connections said, “She was quite lonely in quarantine when she first arrived but there’s now a pony keeping her company and she seems much happier. She breezed this morning, which is usual for Japanese horses to do on a Wednesday before a weekend race. Her trainer, Mr. [Michihiro] Ogasa, was very pleased with what he saw.” 

Chain of Love breezed five furlongs in 1:01.80 on a fast main track at Keeneland. FanDuel Analyst Caton Bredar said, “She looks right at home stretching her legs beautifully and didn’t make much sound as she traveled over the dirt course. Seemed like a very good work. Comes off a win. Could set her up nicely for a big performance, especially after the Japanese horses winning last year.” There are no dirt sprint group stakes for fillies and mares in Japan.  This will be the first time she is going to run this distance against her own sex on a surface she likes. 

Chain of Love enjoys the company of other horses. Currently, she is located near Vicki Oliver’s gelding Zellweger. She loves carrots and her best friend is her groom/exercise rider Yoshimitsu Nakata. He has cared for her and ridden her since she first came to Ogasa Stable as a 2-year-old. Their bond is very strong. Her connections say that she is also a little spoiled. “When you raise the camera to take a picture, she poses!”

With bright eyes, ears forward, and her tail streaming behind her, Chain of Love is a beauty charging ahead to face the challenges in the Filly and Mare Sprint. Internationally top-ranking jockey William Buick will be piloting her as she competes against other speedsters such as Michael McCarthy’s Ce Ce, Steve Asmussen’s Echo Zulu, and Chad Brown’s Goodnight Olive.  

She may be 9,700 miles from her home farm, but Chain of Love has gathered a worldwide fan base. Her U.S. fans will be happy to learn that Chain of Love will remain in the United States after the Breeders’ Cup and join Maeda’s Kentucky broodmare band. One word of advice from Eiji Nonaka. “Don’t be late for dinner!” After all, she is a mare! 

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