The 30th Japan Cup - Handicapper's Report on the Japanese Contenders
This year's Japan Cup, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, will welcome a total of eight foreign runners from five countries, including the top two finishers in this year's Canadian International Stakes (G1) and the Premio Roma (G1) champion from Italy. Meanwhile, the opposing Japanese field boasts one of the strongest line-up in recent years, headed by top older horse Nakayama Festa and the multiple G1 winner Buena Vista.
Nakayama Festa (JPN, C4, by Stay Gold, rating; 127L) won his seasonal debut in the Metropolitan Stakes (2,400m) with ease and registered his first G1 victory in his next start in the Takarazuka Kinen (G1, 2,200m) against Buena Vista and 15 other rivals. He then went on to finish second in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1, 2,400m) and became the second Japanese runner to place so highly ever since El Condor Pasa's second in 1999. With this feat, Nakayama Festa stamped himself a world-class caliber. Scoring three wins out of four starts, his suitability to the Tokyo Racecourse is already proven. In last year's Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby, 2,400m), despite the considerably heavy (soft) going, which somewhat favored the frontrunners, he showed an outstanding turn of speed at the stretch and finished fourth.
Buena Vista (JPN, F4, by Special Week, rating; 121I) marked an overwhelming victory in this year's Tenno Sho (Autumn) (G1, 2,000m) and with five G1 level titles under her belt, she is clearly a standout in the field. Although three of the five G1 level wins were over a mile, she landed a victory in the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks, 2,400m) and finished second the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1, 2,410m), and with her poised disposition, the extra distance shouldn't be a problem. Buena Vista has been very consistent in her 15 career starts, in which she has never failed to finish within the money. Moreover, she has won all her three races at Tokyo in the past and has proven liking for the racecourse, where she can make use of her powerful charge from behind. Her sire, Special Week, was the Japan Cup winner in 1999.
Aside from the two exceptional four-year-olds, this year's three-year-old generation also has a lot to offer. The Japan Cup is very tough for three-year-olds and only two runners from this age group—El Condor Pasa ('98) and Jungle Pocket ('01)—have won the race in the past. With four high-rated three-year-olds running in this year's Japan Cup, however, we may witness another historical moment.
The top three-year-old runner this year is Pelusa (JPN, C3, by Zenno Rob Roy, rating; 120I), who has already proved well up to the G1 standard against older horses with a runner-up effort in the Tenno Sho (Autumn). Despite a poor break, the Zenno Rob Roy colt demonstrated his ability to produce a striking turn of foot in the final stages. Four starts back in the Aoba Sho (G2, 2,400m), he also turned in a dominating victory over the same course and the distance, and is now aiming to capture his first G1 victory in the Japan Cup. His trainer, Kazuo Fujisawa, who was the JRA's champion trainer last season, also saddled Pelusa's sire Zenno Rob Roy to victory in 2004.
Eishin Flash (JPN, C3, by King's Best, rating; 118L) stormed to victory in the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby, G1, 2,400m), covering the last three furlongs in 32.7 seconds. Finishing third in his previous Triple Crown start, the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas, G1, 2,000m), the King's Best colt headed to the Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger, G1, 3,000m) but refrained from starting with a minor muscle strain, which was discovered after the prep race. The Japan Cup will be his comeback start and his conditioning is said to have been going smoothly. King's Best also sired in the same crop this year's British Derby (G1, 2,400m) and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner, Workforce (GB).
Rose Kingdom (JPN, C3, by King Kamehameha, rating; 117L) has been consistent in all three of his Triple Crown starts, finishing fourth, second and second in the Satsuki Sho, the Tokyo Yushun and the Kikuka Sho respectively. He also succeeded in defeating his archrival Eishin Flash in the St. Leger trial, the Kobe Shimbun Hai (G2, 2,400m), after being beaten by a nose in the first leg and a neck margin in the second leg of the Triple Crown. He is rated higher than the derby winner in terms of soundness.
Oken Bruce Lee
Other runners include the Satsuki Sho winner Victoire Pisa (JPN, C3, by Neo Universe), Jaguar Mail (JPN, H6, by Jungle Pocket), who won the Tenno Sho (Spring) (G1, 3,200m), and last year's Japan Cup runner-up Oken Bruce Lee. It would not be a surprise to see any of these contestants win the international turf G1 at the Tokyo Racecourse this year.