The 35th Japan Cup - Japan Autumn International - Handicapper's Report on the Japanese Contenders
The past 34 running of the Japan Cup (G1, 2,400m) have been won by 20 Japanese horses and 14 foreign contingents. Alkaased (USA, by Kingmambo) is the last foreign runner to take home the trophy in 2005 while Japan is in the midst of a nine-year winning streak, but the four foreign horses taking part this year are all proven G1 winners, and with the Japanese field of this year falling short in quality compared to 2014’s field which included top ranked Epiphaneia (JPN, by Symboli Kris S) and Just a Way (JPN, Heart's Cry), any of the four has a good chance to become the first horse in ten years to claim the Japan Cup title. Especially worth noting is that Erupt (IRE, C3, by Dubawi) from France and Ito (GER, C4, by Adlerflug) of Germany share equal weight value of 120lb with our own Lovely Day and Gold Ship, and tied at 37th on the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings.
Here are those considered as the key runners among the Japanese field this year.
Lovely Day (JPN, H5, by King Kamehameha; 120I-L), who was a non-grade-race winner up to the end of last season, made a rapid rise to stardom, claiming six of eight grade-race starts this year among which two were at G1 level. The six wins were over distances between 2,000 and 2,400 meters while his two unsuccessful starts were 3,000 meters and beyond. In the Kyoto Daishoten (G2, 2,400m) which was run over the same distance as the Japan Cup, he timed the fastest finish, covering the last three furlongs in 32.3 seconds while carrying top weights (58 kg). In his latest start in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) (G1, 2,000m), the five-year-old was forwardly positioned behind a slow pace that covered the first 1,000 meters in 60.6 seconds and the second half of the trip in 57.8 then, once taking command at the straight, maintained the lead with lasting speed for his second G1 title. The reliable late-developer’s rating is as of his win in the Takarazuka Kinen (G1, 2,200m) and the Tenno Sho (Autumn).
Gold Ship (JPN, H6, by Stay Gold; 120E) is a winner of six G1 titles—the most among active runners—with the addition of four G2 and one G3 wins to total 11 grade-race victories. Having won the Hanshin Daishoten (G2, 3,000m) for three consecutive seasons, he is considered best over extended distances under “E (Extended) Category (2,701 meters and beyond)” but he has also registered G1 wins over shorter distances in the Takarazuka Kinen and the Arima Kinen (G1, 2,500m). His achievements speak for themselves, but his mood swings make him an unpredictable and inconsistent performer and his latest flop was in the Takarazuka Kinen, in which he missed his break and failed to recover from it. Nevertheless, both his strength as well as his weakness is what makes him such a unique character that is loved by many racegoers who now wish to see the gray perform to his best in his last two starts before his retirement in the Japan Cup and the Arima Kinen. His rating is as of his victory in the Hanshin Daishoten.
The two female runners representing Japan this year are both of high quality.
Mikki Queen (JPN, F3, by Deep Impact; 112L) is unquestionably the top three-year-old filly of this season and the winner of two G1 starts in the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks, G1, 2,400m) and the Shuka Sho (G1, 2,000m). Her reliable finishing speed has carried her within the top two finishers in all seven career starts, and the three-year-old fillies of this year are of high standard, finishing close to the winner against their seniors in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup. While only four three-year-olds (from Japan) have claimed the Japan Cup title in the past, recent accomplishments by three-year-old fillies have been impressive such as in 2012 when Gentildonna (JPN, by Deep Impact) won the title and in 2013 when Denim and Ruby (JPN, M5, by Deep Impact) finished second. The wide and long homestretch at Tokyo’s 2,400-meter course is an ideal stage for Mikki Queen to make use of her powerful charge which she demonstrated in the Oaks and the weight advantage of racing with 53kg is another favorable factor. Her rating is as of her victory in the Yushun Himba.
Shonan Pandora (JPN, F4, by Deep Impact; 113I-L) is the 2014 Shuka Sho winner who has progressed well in her four-year-old season. She finished a close third, just 0.2 second behind winner Lovely Day, in the Takarazuka Kinen then won the All Comers (G2, 2,200m), beating Marialite (JPN, F4, by Deep Impact) and Nuovo Record (JPN, F4, by Heart’s Cry) who subsequently finished first and second, respectively, in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, and other top middle-distance runners of the opposite gender. Although fourth in the Tenno Sho (Autumn), she turned in an impressive late charge after racing wide from stall 15 and while beaten by Lovely Day by 0.2 second in that race, she is capable of turning the tables against him with the extra distance in the Japan Cup. Her rating is as of her third-place finish in the Takarazuka Kinen, her victory in the All Comers and her fourth-place finish in the Tenno Sho (Autumn).
One and Only
One and Only (JPN, C4, by Heart's Cry), winner of the 2014 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby, G1, 2,400m) would have been considered as the one to watch among the four-year-old colts. However, it would be overstating to say that he will bounce back from his recent poor performances; therefore, I have listed the two following colts as potential winners in the coming Japan Cup.
Sounds of Earth
Sounds of Earth (JPN, C4, by Neo Universe; 114L) timed the fastest finish while covering the 3,000-meter trip in 3:01.1 when second in the 2014 Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger, G1, 3,000m), stamping his claim as a prominent runner with both speed and stamina. While yet to win a grade-race title and well beaten by Lovely Day who carried 2 kilos more than himself in the Kyoto Daishoten, he proved his ability to best the rest of the quality field that included G1 winners, One and Only and Lachesis (JPN, M5, by Deep Impact). There is still plenty of room for improvement in this powerful four-year-old colt and he has passed up the Tenno Sho (Autumn) after the Kyoto Daishoten to focus on conditioning towards the Japan Cup. His rating is as of his runner-up effort in the Kyoto Daishoten.
Admire Deus (JPN, C4, by Admire Don; 116L) had an unremarkable three-year-old season but blossomed in his first two starts at four, claiming back-to-back wins in the Nikkei Shinshun Hai (G2, 2,400m) and the Nikkei Sho (G2, 2,500m). He sustained a minor fracture after being heavily defeated in the Tenno Sho (Spring) (G1, 3,200m) and was eleventh in his comeback start in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) with a great amount of ground to cover from way back and wide at the stretch. However, his late charge tied for the fastest finish and closed the gap from the winner to 0.8 second at the finish. Improving on his first start after a prolonged break and with extra distance in his next start, he has a good chance to be among the top finishers in the coming G1 race. His rating is as of his victory in the Nikkei Sho.