The 16th Champions Cup - Japan Autumn International - Handicapper's Report on the Japanese Contenders
The Champions Cup (G1, dirt, 1,800m), formally the Japan Cup Dirt, was first established in 2000 as the counterpart of the Japan Cup (turf) race and initially held on the left-handed course at Tokyo Racecourse for seven of its first eight years while temporarily held once at Nakayama's right-handed course during that time. It was then transferred to Hanshin Racecourse where it was held over six runnings on its right-handed course.
The dirt G1, currently held over the left-handed track at Chukyo Racecourse since last year, will be participated by Gun Pit (AUS, G5, by Dubawi) from Hong Kong. Although a winner of seven races on all-weather surface in as many starts, the dirt surface will be totally new to the Dubawi gelding who will face a tough field of top dirt runners that include proven G1 winners, Hokko Tarumae, Copano Rickey and up-and-coming three-year-old, Nonkono Yume.
Here are those considered as the key runners among the Japanese field this year.
Hokko Tarumae (JPN, H6, by King Kamehameha; 116I) tops the Japanese field with a career record of nine G1 wins and is also the winner of the inaugural running of the Champions Cup. He capped off the 2014 season with a dominating victory in the Tokyo Daishoten (G1, dirt, 2,000m) which placed him above Copano Rickey with 119lb. as the leading dirt runner in Japan’s Thoroughbred Rankings.
The JRA’s Best Dirt Horse of 2014 kicked off his new season with another G1 win in the Kawasaki Kinen (dirt, 2,100m) and turned in a fifth-place finish in the Dubai World Cup (G1, dirt, 2,000m)—a big improvement from his heavy defeat in the race last year—in March before scoring another G1 victory in the Teio Sho (dirt, 2,000m) in his first start after returning to Japan. His only defeat within Japan since his Champions Cup victory was when he finished third in his first start coming off his summer break in the JBC Classic (dirt, 2,000m) and hopes are high on his improving on that to claim his consecutive title in the coming dirt G1. His rating is as of his win in the Teio Sho.
Copano Rickey (JPN, H5, by Gold Allure; 118I) follows Hokko Tarumae with five G1 wins. He has won three out of four starts this year including two G1 victories. His only defeat was in the Nippon TV Hai (dirt, 1,800m), his first start coming off a long break, in which he made pace but was unable to put in a breather and was used up in the closing stages, finishing third. He then scored an easy win against Hokko Tarumae and the rest of the field in his latest start, the JBC Classic.
Although he missed his break and turned in an uncharacteristic 12th-place finish in last year’s edition of the Champions Cup, the Gold Allure five-year-old is known as a consistent runner with a quick jump from the starting gate to secure good position as well as an impressive change of gear when challenged. His rating is as of his victory in the JBC Classic.
Nonkono Yume (JPN, C3, by Twining; 114M) is inarguably the top three-year-old dirt runner with multiple grade-race victories in the Unicorn Stakes (G3, dirt, 1,600m), the Japan Dirt Derby (dirt, 2,000m) and another victory in his first test against older dirt runners in the Musashino Stakes (G3, dirt, 1,600m). In his latest victory, coming off a four-month break and carrying 58 kilos, he won convincingly, registering the fastest finish by more than a second to his nearest fast finisher, covering the last three furlongs in 35.2 seconds, and though the quality of the field was not particularly high, he certainly showed dominance in this race.
While it may be too much to ask to outrun the aforementioned G1 winners who have powerful speed to dispute the front, the Twining colt has good speed that has marked the fastest finish in all of his starts. All three of his grade-race wins were achieved from being sent to post second choice, so his chances of accomplishing the unexpected are high. His rating is as of his victory in the Musashino Stakes.
Sound True (JPN, G5, by French Deputy; 113I) has shown great progress in his five-year-old season, landing his first victory at open-class level in the July Stakes (listed, dirt, 1,800m) followed by his first grade-race win in the Nippon TV Hai. While the achievement was in part due to the early leaders that disputed the lead having used up much of their energy, he showed impressive effort in pinning down Copano Rickey in the closing stages for the win.
In the following JBC Classic, which was run at a moderate pace, the French Deputy gelding validated his Nippon TV Hai victory by registering the fastest finish and outrunning Hokko Tarumae for second place. He has proved competitive in his rally against the top two dirt runners in his last two starts and has an equal chance along with Nonkono Yume to outrun the two again if the race is to unfold to his advantage, allowing him to make use of his powerful finishing speed. His rating is as of his runner-up effort in the JBC Classic.
Roman Legend (JPN, H7, by Special Week; 112M-I), who claimed a G1 victory as a four-year-old and finished just 0.2 seconds behind Hokko Tarumae when third in last year’s Champions Cup, has not been at his best recently.He has yet to score a win this year while still proving competitive in finishing a close third—a head and a neck—behind Roi Jardin (JPN, C4, by King Kamehameha) in the Miyako Stakes (G3, dirt, 1,800m), staying well after positioned up front behind a fast early pace that worked to the advantage for the late chargers.
Considering the fact that the winner carried 2 kilos less and had a ground saving trip, Roman Legend’s performance could be rated higher quality-wise. His four grade-race victories have all been won by small margins, indicating his strength when challenged, so a duel at the finish should be a welcomed situation. His rating is as of his fifth-place finish in the February Stakes (G1, dirt, 1,600m).
Sambista (JPN, M6, by Suzuka Mambo; 108M), the top female runner in the dirt category, is a winner of five grade-race titles limited to fillies and mares including last year's JBC Ladies' Classic (dirt, 1,800m). She has also proved competitive against male rivals, having bested the come-from-behind runners in her fourth-place effort in the 2014 Champions Cup. She did not disgrace herself in her seventh-place finish in this year's February Stakes, crossing the wire just 0.4 seconds behind the winner. While she has difficulties in securing good positions among a mixed field, she never fails to show a strong finish, so if she can sit a little more in front early, she could hope for an improvement this year. Her rating is as of her win in the Ladies' Prelude (dirt, 1,800m).
Corin Berry (JPN, F4, by South Vigorous; 108S) has been impressive this year, registering 3-1-1 out against male oppositions at distances between 1,200 and 1,400 meters including her latest G1 victory in the JBC Sprint (dirt, 1,200m). She has outstanding speed to hit the front and dictate the pace in 1,200-meter races, and as long as she doesn't miss her break like she did in the February Stakes, a slow pace in the coming G1 is improbable. While 1,800 meters is a leap in distance for the sprinter, she has lasting speed and so, if she is able to have an easy energy saving early lead, she could well be among the top finishers. In any case, the probable pace-setter holds the key as to how this year's dirt G1 is to unfold. Her rating is as of her win in the JBC Sprint.