Japan Cup (G1) - Handicapper's Report on the Japanese Contenders
The past 35 running of the Japan Cup (G1, 2,400m) have been won by 21 Japanese horses and 14 foreign contingents. Alkaased (USA, by Kingmambo) is the last foreign runner to take home the trophy in 2005 while Japan has succeeded in securing the title here for 10 consecutive years. Three foreign contingents, who will be making their bid to end the winning streak this year, are Erupt (IRE, C4, by Dubawi) from France, Iquitos (GER, C4, by Adlerflug) and Nightflower (IRE, F4, by Dylan Thomas) from Germany. Erupt and Nightflower hope to make use of their experiences in the same race last year to accomplish their mission, but the standard of the middle-long distance runners in Japan is high and the competition is predicted to be extremely tough to beat.
Meanwhile, the Japanese field has a lineup of quality horses from all generations—Dubai Turf victor Real Steel and Tenno Sho (Spring) winner Kitasan Black represent the four-year-old group while the five-year-olds are headed by Gold Actor, winner of the Arima Kinen in 2015. Three-year-old Dee Majesty, who won the Satsuki Sho, is another powerful runner taking part this year.
Real Steel (JPN, C4, by Deep Impact; 120I) is a talented and consistent runner at the highest level who has secured his place among the best of his generation from his three-year-old season, during which he turned in runner-up efforts in two of his Triple Crown starts, the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas, G1, 2,000m) and the Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger, G1, 3,000m), while finishing fourth in the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby, G1, 2,400m). Registering his first G1 victory in the Dubai Turf (G1, 1,800m) early this year, he also demonstrated his outstanding ability in his fall debut, following a summer break, in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) (G1, 2,000m), where he finished 1-1/2-length second to multiple-G1 winner Maurice.
With the exception of the Yasuda Kinen (G1, 1,600m), his comeback start following his trip to Dubai, he has been consistent in turning in strong finishes that has have enabled him to cross the wire close up. His three career wins have all been over 1,800 meters but he has proved adaptable to the slow pace—60.2 sec. in the first 1,000 meters and 58.5 over the last—in the Tenno Sho and should not find another extra 400 meters in the Japan Cup to be a problem. There is also plenty of chance to see further improvement in his second fall start that may enable him to grab his first G1 title back home. He was rated 120I, his seasonal best and highest among the Japan Cup field this year, as of his runner-up effort in the Tenno Sho (Autumn).
Kitasan Black (JPN, C4, by Black Tide; 119L) leads this year’s lineup in most number of grade-race wins with five, including two at the highest level, while finishing within the money in 11 out of 12 career starts. His performances since the fall of his three-year-old season is especially impressive in that he has a record of 4-1-2 out of seven starts, and even when beaten, the margins between him and the winner have been less than 0.1 seconds. However, he has only been race favorite once—his last start, the Kyoto Daishoten (G2, 2,400m)—which may be due to the fact that, while he has only been beaten within 0.1 seconds, his wins have also been very close and he has yet to show power to pull away in the closing stages to earn the punters’ trust.
His only start over 2,400 meters at Tokyo Racecourse was in the Tokyo Yushun, the only race in which he was heavily beaten to 14th, and while having a lasting speed to dictate the pace, he falls behind some of the other strong contenders in finishing speed. The key to whether he can win the coming Japan Cup will depend on his ability to sustain his lead along the long homestretch at Tokyo. His best rating this year was 119L when third in the Takarazuka Kinen (G1, 2,200m) and as of his victory in the Kyoto Daishoten.
Gold Actor (JPN, H5, by Screen Hero; 119L) is a late developer whose true form began to take effect from the fall of his four-year old campaign. He has won four of his five career grade-race starts since, and, while he disappointed in the Tenno Sho (Spring) (G1, 3,200m) as race favorite, he bounced back to form after given a long break and won his fall comeback start in the Sankei Sho All Comers (G2, 2,200m) while carrying top weights. He has performed well with plenty of spacing between his races and is coming into the Japan Cup off a two-month break which should allow him to put in his best performance. The Nakayama Racecourse is very much his best-suited track, but he has also won at Tokyo last year in the Copa Republica Argentina (G2, 2,500m) and his ability to keep up with the pace combined with his finishing speed is an advantage. His rating 119L is as of his victory in the Nikkei Sho (G2, 2,500m).
Cheval Grand (JPN, C4, by Heart's Cry; 115L,E), while less spectacular with a record of just two G2 wins, has good reason to be recognized as a threat in G1 competitions after demonstrating impressive finishing speed in pulling away for a 2-1/2-length victory in the Hanshin Daishoten (G2, 3,000m) then, carrying top 58kg in the Copa Republica Argentina, executed a powerful late charge to pin down the leader while holding off the rest to prevail by 1/2 length. His lasting speed and stamina has enabled him to register 5-1-1 out of seven starts over distances 2,400 meters and beyond, and should improve in his second start following the summer break, making him a strong candidate for the Japan Cup title this year. His half-sisters Verxina and Vivlos are both G1 winners in the Victoria Mile (2013 & 2014) and the Shuka Sho (2016), respectively, and his rating as of his two G2 wins as well as his third-place finish in the Tenno Sho (Spring) is 115L,E.
Rouge Buck (JPN, F4, by Manhattan Cafe; 111M) is an improving four-year-old filly who, after three straight wins from her debut, was unable to meet expectations as race favorite in both the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas, G1, 1,600m) and the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks, G1, 2,400m) while being winless for the rest of her three-year-old season. She marked her fourth career win—her first in 16 months—and second grade-race victory in the Epsom Cup (G3, 1,800m) in June this year. Further progressed during the summer, she won her fall debut in the Mainichi Okan (G2, 1,800m) against a field of tough male opponents such as Ambitious and Staphanos and was sent to post third favorite in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) where she met traffic, forcing her to angle out for a belated charge and short of reaching contention in seventh. However, the spacious Tokyo Racecourse should be an ideal track to make use of her dynamic late kick which has already proven competitive at the highest level and although her best distance over which she has marked three grade-race wins is at 1,800 meters, she has shown her ability to handle the 2,400-meter distance with a runner-up effort in the 2015 Oaks. Her rating, 111M, is as of her victory in the Mainichi Okan.
While only four three-year-olds have succeeded in claiming the Japan Cup title in the past, the sophomores of this season are considered to have a good chance in claiming the title this year, and the outcome of the Japan Cup race will serve as an opportunity to gauge their ability against their seniors in the future.
Dee Majesty (JPN, C3, by Deep Impact; 119I,L) renewed the race record when claiming the Satsuki Sho and his close third by just 0.1 seconds in the following Tokyo Yushun secured his position among the top three-year-olds of 2016. He progressed well to add another grade-race win in the St. Lite Kinen (G2, 2,200m) prior to his fourth-place finish in the Kikuka Sho, in which he was well beaten by his archrival Satono Diamond, with whom he had engaged in a close fight in their encounters during the spring, but turned in a quality performance nonetheless. He has two wins, including the Kyodo News Service Hai (G3, 1,800m), and a third in the Tokyo Yushun among three starts at Tokyo Racecourse where the able colt, who is a bit slow in picking up speed, can still make use of his ability to the fullest over the long stretch. His rating of 119I,L is as of his victory in the Satsuki Sho and third-place finish in the Tokyo Yushun.
Rainbow Line (JPN, C3, by Stay Gold; 116E) was mainly raced between a mile and 1,800 meters in the spring during which he scored a third-place finish in the NHK Mile Cup (G1, 1,600m), but stepped up in distance beginning with the Tokyo Yushun. He turned in an impressive third-place effort in the Sapporo Kinen (G2, 2,000m) in which he beat Nuovo Record and closed the gap to a neck margin behind runner-up Maurice—his achievement in this race under WFA (weight for age) conditions was especially well appreciated as it gave a realistic idea of this year’s three-year-olds’ strength against senior proven contenders not carrying extra penalties for their past performances. Rainbow Line finished second in the following Kikuka Sho but his bursting late kick, while belatedly, was just as impressive as that in the Sapporo Kinen and bested the rest of the field including Dee Majesty. His rating 116E is as of his runner-up effort in the Kikuka Sho.
Biche (JPN, F3, by Deep Impact; 110L) won the Shion Stakes (G3, 2,000m) in September following her third-place finish in the Yushun Himba earlier in May and was sent to post race favorite for the last leg of the fillies’ Triple Crown, the Shuka Sho (G1, 2,000m) in which she disappointed badly to 10th. Although there is no apparent reason for the defeat, her suitability to the Japan Cup race has already been proven by her close third by just 0.1 second over the same course and distance in the Oaks and she is well qualified to be a threat if she is to bounce back to form. While it will be her first challenge against a mixed field of older G1 caliber, three-year-old fillies that have run in the Japan Cup in recent years have been successful in turning in impressive results. Biche will be making full use of her weight advantage, a minimum of 53 kilos, in the hope of following in the footsteps of Gentildonna, winner of the 2012 Japan Cup, and 2013 runner-up Denim and Ruby—both sired by Deep Impact. Her rating 110L is as of her third-place finish in the Yushun Himba.