2017 News

November 17, 2017

Japan Cup (G1) - Handicapper's Report on the Japanese Contenders



The past 36 runnings of the Japan Cup (G1, 2,400m) have been won by 22 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 thereafter for 11 consecutive years.

Four foreign contingents, who will be making their bid to end the winning streak this year, are Idaho (IRE, C4, by Galileo) from Ireland, Iquitos (GER, C5, by Adlerflug) and Guignol (GER, H5, by Cape Cross) from Germany and Boom Time (AUS, H6, by Flying Spur) from Australia. Guignol comes off back-to-back G1 victories in Germany while Iquitos has high hopes to improve on his impressive seventh place last year when he finished just 0.6 second short of the winning time. Idaho is a third-place finisher in the 2017 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (G1, 2,400m) while Boom Time is a G1 winner of the latest Caulfield Cup (G1, 2,400m). Guignol and Idaho are rated 119 while only three runners from this year’s Japanese field are rated higher; Kitasan Black, Satono Crown and Rey de Oro. While the standard of middle-long distance runners in Japan is high and the competition is predicted to be extremely tough to beat, there is a good chance for our visiting contenders to finish well up front if not at the top this time.

Meanwhile, the Japanese field has a lineup of quality horses from all generations—defending champion Kitasan Black and Satono Crown, who comes off the Tenno Sho (Autumn) (G1, 2,000m) in which they finished first and second, respectively, are the two most highly regarded older horses in the 2017 Japan Cup field while 2016 derby victor Makahiki appears to be regaining his form towards the coming international G1 event. The three-year-olds that will be challenging these proven G1 winners as well as the highly rated caliber from abroad include derby winner Rey de Oro and Oaks winner Soul Stirring.

Kitasan Black (JPN, H5, by Black Tide) has won three out of four starts, all at G1 level, this year and now has a career record of six G1 victories which places him well above his rivals. Among 18 career starts, he has finished within the money in 16, winning 11 of them. He has good speed to position himself among the leaders if not make the pace and most always has another gear which enables him to still deliver a strong finish. His defeat in the Takarazuka Kinen (G1, 2,200m) was somewhat uncharacteristic and difficult to point out a reason, but his performance in his fall debut, the Tenno Sho (Autumn), showcased his outstanding ability to make up for a slow break to assume command and hold off a fast closing Satono Crown for the win. His is usually in even better form in his second start following a break and is well suited to the Tokyo Racecourse, over which he has won four out of five starts. The only concern would be whether his last start, run over extremely testing ground and won in a winning time that timed almost ten seconds slower than average, will have any effect on his next performance, but the son of Black Tide (JPN, by Sunday Silence) has so far handled his training without any signs of fatigue. His rating 123I is as of his victory in the Tenno Sho (Autumn).

Satono Crown (JPN, H5, by Marju) captured his first G1 title in the Hong Kong Vase (G1, 2,400m) in December last year, out-finishing defending champion Highland Reel (IRE, H5, by Galileo) whose other G1 victories included the year’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Turf. He has two wins including the Kyoto Kinen (G2, 2,200m) and the Takarazuka Kinen out of four starts this season and has won all three starts categorized under “LONG” distance since the Hong Kong Vase. He has met up with rival Kitasan Black six times since the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas, G1, 2,000m) as a three-year-old —beaten four times and out-finishing that foe twice—but, narrowing it down to races under the “L” category, he has beaten the reigning Horse of the Year twice and has been beaten once. While succumbing to second in his latest Tenno Sho (Autumn), he was just a neck short at the wire, and the son of Marju (IRE, by Last Tycoon) could turn the tables this time out over his favorite 2,400-meter distance. A testing ground is also welcome for the powerful late charger so the weather on race day could be a deciding factor. His best rating of 122I is as of his runner-up effort in the Tenno Sho (Autumn).

Makahiki (JPN, C4, by Deep Impact) made a name for himself as one of the top three-year-olds with a record of four wins including the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby, G1, 2,400m) out of five starts last year. While winless in four starts this season following his return from France last fall, the Deep Impact (JPN, by Sunday Silence) colt has shown improvement, especially after his summer break, in his last two starts, the Mainichi Okan (G2, 1,800m) in which he finished a close sixth, just 0.3 second behind the winner and the Tenno Sho (Autumn) where he demonstrated a spectacular turn of speed up the heavy tracks after entering the stretch way back from 15th to fifth place. With the four-year-old group having the edge over the other generations in the past runnings of the Japan Cup, Makahiki might take advantage of a firm track, if the chance arises, and replicate his Tokyo Yushun performance over the same course and distance to beat the two five-year-old greats. His best rating this year, 117L, is as of his third-place finish in the Kyoto Kinen.

Facing older G1 caliber in the Japan Cup this year are the season’s derby and oaks winner. While only four three-year-olds have succeeded in landing the Japan Cup title, the two classic race winners represent the high standard of their age group and their performances against their seniors will give an insight into the extent of their potentials. Fujisawa, who trains both of these outstanding three-year-olds, has a career record of 1,374 wins, second most wins among active trainers in JRA history. (as of Nov. 12)

Rey de Oro (JPN, C3, by King Kamehameha) validated his derby win with an overwhelming two-length victory over subsequent Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. leger) victor Kiseki (JPN, C3, by Rulership) in his fall debut, the Kobe Shimbun Hai (G2, 2,400m). Eleven derby winners have run in the Japan Cup as a three-year-old but only Jungle Pocket (JPN, by Tony Bin) has succeeded in claiming the title in 2001. While the standard of the older caliber remains high, making the Japan Cup a tough race to win for sophomores, derby runner-up Suave Richard (JPN, C3, by Heart’s Cry) has already proved his ability against older grade-race runners in the Copa Republica Argentina (G2, 2,500m) on November 5, carrying 56kg, which raises even higher hopes for Rey de Oro who will be partnered with JRA’s leading jockey, Christophe Lemaire. His highest rate this season, 120L, is as of his victory in the Tokyo Yushun.

While it will be the first test against older horses for the above-mentioned derby victor, Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks, G1, 2,400m) winner Soul Stirring (JPN, F3, by Frankel) will be facing older rivals for the third time. Although she was unable to sustain her lead after making the pace in the Mainichi Okan, her second challenge against top older caliber in following Tenno Sho (Autumn) was impressive as the powerful filly, despite having to make up much ground from traveling wide, came with a strong late charge to gain on the leaders who came forth from their ground-saving trips, to a sixth-place finish. The Oaks this year was of high standard and the winning time, while the pace itself differed between the two, was faster than that of the derby, held a week later. Her rating of 115 is a record tie as an Oaks winner and equals that of Gentildonna (JPN, by Deep Impact) who became the first three-year-old filly to win the Japan Cup title in 2012. Carrying the lightest weight of 53kg is also an advantage. She is rated 115L as of her Yushun Himba victory.

While the Japanese runners will center on the above G1 winners, Cheval Grand (JPN, H5, by Heart’s Cry), who falls behind with just two wins at G2 level, has repeatedly proven competitive over long distances at the highest level, finishing third in the 2016 Japan Cup and second in the Tenno Sho (Spring) this year. The son of Heart’s Cry (JPN, by Sunday Silence)has good stamina and lasting speed that has enabled him to finish within fourth in all but one out of 12 career starts at 2,400 meters and beyond. Coming off a third-place finish in his first start following a summer break in the Kyoto Daishoten (G2, 2,400m), hopes are high for the five-year-old chestnut to further improve in his next Japan Cup. His sister Vivlos (JPN, F4, by Deep Impact) is a two-time G1 winner in the 2016 Shuka Sho and the 2017 Dubai Turf (G1, 1,800m) while another sister Verxina (JPN, by Deep Impact) was a two-time winner of the Victoria Mile (G1, 1,600m). G1 winners sired by Heart’s Cry have all claimed their titles (excluding those won overseas) at Tokyo Racecourse. His best rating this year, 119E, is as of his runner-up effort in the Tenno Sho (Spring).

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