Hokko Brave, Fame Game poised for Caulfield Cup
One year after Admire Rakti’s historical first-for-Japan victory of the Caulfield Cup, two more Japan-based contenders are in Australia to take on the Group 1 open handicap. Poised for the 2,400-meter challenge are the 7-year-old Hokko Brave by Marvelous Sunday, and the 5-year-old Fame Game, who, like Admire Rakti, was sired by Heart’s Cry. Fame Game and Hokko Brave both hail from the eastern training center of Miho, but in the saddles come Saturday, Oct. 17 will be two ace natives of Down Under -- Craig Williams and Zachary Purton, the latter who won the race on Admire Rakti last year.
The Caulfield Cup, with its purse of over A$3 million and first-place prize of A$1.75 million (approx. ¥153 million), is Australia’s second-biggest race after the Melbourne Cup. First run in 1879, the race is staged at Caulfield Racecourse in the southeastern Melbourne suburbs and headlines the venue’s three-day carnival, which also features the G1 Caulfield Guineas and the G1 Thousand Guineas. An important leadup to the Melbourne Cup, the Caulfield Cup precedes the Cox Plate and the Victoria Derby in what is the headiest season for Australian racing and racing fans.
The race was first opened to foreign competition in 1998 and England’s Taufan’s Melody, the UAE’s All The Good and France’s Dunaden managed to reel in top money before Japan landed first place last year. This year marks the fifth time Japan has sent runners to the Caulfield and the country’s established competitiveness in the race has pushed odds down on this year’s pair. Fame Game is currently at about 10 to 1 and Hokko Brave 13 to 1 with Australian bookmakers. Fame Game was originally a strong second favorite, but drifted out when Purton commented that he felt Fame Game was better suited to the Melbourne Cup and he drifted further when he drew the far inside, which is seen as an inauspicious post.
The Yoshitada Munakata-trained Fame Game, out of the Allez Milord mare Hall of Fame, is currently five for 16, with two wins at the graded-stakes level since last November. Though he has yet to win at the top level, his last run saw him finish in second by a neck to Gold Ship in the G1 Tenno Sho (Spring) in May. A dyed-in-the-wool stayer, Fame Game has had few opportunities for the distance he enjoys. His recent wins have come at distances of from 2,500 meters to 3,400 and though he has had a number of starts in the 1,800-2,000 range, he will be running over 2,400 meters for the first time. Slow starts were more often the norm for Fame Game through late spring of last year, but in his six starts hence he has missed the break only once. And, though he as a rule races from far off the pace, he showed his versatility in the G1 Takarazuka Kinen last year over 2,200 meters. In that race,Fame Game ran in second position and finished in sixth, 4 1/2 lengths off the winner in a field of 12.
Hokko Brave is trained by Yasutoshi Matsunaga and is out of the Dancing Brave mare Hokko Memory. With five wins, five seconds and five thirds, Hokko Brave had proved himself a consistent runner before making the step up to the graded level. That step also put the winner’s circle out of reach. In his past nine starts, all at the G2 or G1 level, Hokko Brave has made the top three spots three times, with two thirds and a second. Unlike Fame Game, however, Hokko Brave is most comfortable at the classic 2,400-meter distance and will surely find Caulfield a welcome change from the longer distances he has had of late. Hokko Brave’s last start was also the Tenno Sho (Spring), where he finished sixth about 2 lengths off the winner. Both horses in that race were running under 58 kg. On Saturday, Fame Game is to be saddled with 57 kg, which is only 1 kg shy of the field’s top weight and 7 kg heavier than its lightest, carried by Magnapal. Hokko Brave will carry only 55.5 kg, the lightest weight he has had since November 2013.
Fame Game has drawn the No. 1 slot, which has the longest losing streak of all gate positions, and Hokko Brave, currently drawn for the No. 19 gate, will likely break from gate No. 15 if the four emergencies currently to his inside do not secure a berth. Both spots, actually, are considered inauspicious when looking at past results. Only two winners over the past 23 years have jumped from wider than gate No. 13. Fame Game will run under the No. 3 saddle cloth, Hokko Brave under No. 5.
A look across the field sees Mongolian Khan, winner of both the New Zealand and the Australian Derby, the expected favorite at odds of about 4.6 to 1. He ran a fast-finishing third in the 2,000-meter Caulfield Stakes last out, but was most definitely looking for the distance he’ll have in the Cup. Mongolian Khan is partnered with veteran jockey Opie Bosson. Hauraki, a Godolphin runner just off a close second in the Craven Plate two weeks ago will likely be second pick. He ran second in the Australian Derby, which was his only race thus far at the distance, and he will have a 2-kg weight advantage over Mongolian Khan, running under 55 kg. Hauraki will have James McDonald up. The mare Set Square is a model of consistency with three wins and two seconds in 10 starts. She finished third in the 2,000-meter Turnbull Stakes and proved she can handle the Cup distance in winning the Crown Oaks over 2,500 last November. Kerrin McKevoy has the ride. Both Hauraki and Set Square are going at about 8 to 1.
Last year’s runnerup Rising Romance is back and capable, as is the Michael Stoute-trained Snow Sky, an English 5-year-old racing in Australia for the first time. Complacent (if he gets a run), Who Shot Thebarman, the tough mare Lucia Valentina, third-place finisher in last year’s race, and Magnapal are all names to watch.
Both Japanese horses have been in Australia since Sept. 19. Last week, Craig Williams was up on Hokko Brave at the Weribee quarantine center. It was the horse’s first bit of fast work since flying in and he covered some 800 meters at a good clip. Williams, according to The Sydney Morning Herald, said, "I was slightly concerned initially when he pulled up from his work that he had a really good puff, but he recovered in less than two minutes and it just shows that they have put in the groundwork in Japan and here they just have him ticking over." Williams, who has won two Caulfield Cups, including with foreign raider Dunaden, expected to ride another gallop before the race and said, “I think it is extremely important for me to have a comparison of where he is going,” but added, "I'm extremely happy with where he is now, but I expect him to be on an upward spiral from today."
Hokko Brave had his last gallop in Japan on Sept. 15 running solo over the dirt course at Miho. At the time, Matsunaga said, “Last week, his heart was at about 80 percent top fitness and today, I’d say it’s up to 90 percent. His condition will drop with the trip but I plan to give him two fast gallops before the race while in Australia.”
Williams was reportedly not happy about the wide draw he has for the Caulfield Cup with only three horses to his outside and indicated ideally he would have drawn around six to eight. He said he would be discussing strategy with the horse’s connections, those who knew the horse best.
Zachary Purton rode Fame Game this week on Monday and admitted he came up short when compared to Admire Rakti. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, Purton said, "When I went and galloped Admire Rakti [last year] I got off him and immediately thought he was a real chance to win the Caulfield Cup, that's how well he worked," Purton said. "He was sharp around the turns, handled the track well and gave me a really good feel.
"This guy [Fame Game] also gave me a really good feel but he didn't handle the corners as well and he has a bit more of a stayer's stride on him. He needs to go through his gears that little bit more. I think Caulfield is going to test him, and Flemington will suit him a bit more."
Purton flew in from Hong Kong for the gallop. "I don't think it was that vital [to ride him] but he is going very well and the owners wanted me to come and make sure he was where he should be for Saturday," Purton said. "It was good to get a little bit of [a] feel for him. He looks nice, very healthy and bright. He is moving well and I was really happy with him."
After Fame Game’s last fast workout back home on Sept. 16, trainer Yoshitada Munakata expressed his pleasure at the mental maturity the horse is showing recently. “He ran far more smoothly than I had expected. He has matured mentally and I don’t think he’ll be doing anything too strange.”
Purton has repeatedly indicated he feels Fame Game is better suited for the Nov. 3 Melbourne Cup, which both Japan runners are booked for after the Caulfield Cup. Of Fame Game, Purton said, "He is a couple of kilograms over his fighting weight at the moment but after that gallop and the race on the weekend I'm sure he will tighten up and he will be spot-on going into the Melbourne Cup."
Purton compared the two horses from Japan saying, "There was not much between these horses in Japan, once again it will come down to luck in running. Hokko Brave has got a more positive racing style than my bloke, he races handy. My bloke relaxes a bit more and comes home strongly," he said.
The Caulfield Cup is the ninth race on the Saturday card of 10 at Caulfield. It has a post time of 5:40 p.m. Australia time, 3:40 p.m. Japan time.
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