Champions Cup (G1) - Preview
Le Vent Se Leve
K T Brave
After a thrilling Japan Cup saw superstar filly Almond Eye fly home in record time at Tokyo Racecourse last week, the 4th leg of the Japan Autumn International Series of races, the Grade 1 Champions Cup, will be staged at Chukyo Racecourse, just outside the city of Nagoya, on Sunday, Dec. 2.
The race which was formerly known as the Japan Cup Dirt began its existence in 2000, when it was originally run over 2,100 meters at Tokyo. It then switched to the right-handed Hanshin Racecourse in 2008, and was run over the distance of 1,800 meters. Since 2014, the home of the race has been Chukyo, and the trip has remained at 1,800 meters.
This year the race has attracted 19 nominations, among which is one challenger from overseas, the 4-year-old colt from America, Pavel, who becomes the first horse from outside Japan to take on the race since Gun Pit in 2015. The rest of the field, up to a maximum of 16 runners, will be made up of some of Japan’s current stars in dirt races.
The race is for 3-year-olds and up, with 3-year-olds set to carry 56kg and 4-year-olds and above set to carry 57kg. There is a 2kg allowance for fillies and mares. Step races leading into this year’s Champions Cup have included the Mile Championship Nambu Hai at Morioka in October, and two other dirt races held in November, namely the Grade 3 Tokyo Chunichi Sports Hai Musashino Stakes run over a mile at Tokyo and the JBC Classic, held this year at Kyoto over 1,900 meters.
In the past 10 years, favorites have had a bit of a rough passage, with just three winning, the last being Transcend in 2011. Five-year-olds just have the upper hand, with four of them winning in the last decade, just beating out 4 and 6-year olds, who have won three times apiece. The race record since the race has been run at Chukyo is held by the last two winners of the race, Gold Dream in 2017, and Sound True in 2016, who both stopped the clock in a time of 1 minute, 50.1 seconds, with the second horse in both those races recording the same times, proving what close finishes there have been recently.
Prize and incentive money this year will go to the first 10 finishers, with the winner being awarded JPY100 million. The Grade 1 Champions Cup will be Race 11 on Sunday’s card at Chukyo, with a post time of 15:30 local time. Here’s a look at some of the runners:
Le Vent Se Leve: The 3-year-old colt by Symboli Kris S is an exciting prospect, winning six of his seven starts and finishing second in the other one. He’s now recorded three straight wins, all of them strong victories, and he impresses his trainer, Kiyoshi Hagiwara. “He ran up against older horses for the first time in the Mile Championship Nambu Hai and put in a strong performance. He got off to a better start in that race, and I think he’s becoming a better horse. Since then, we decided to skip the JBC and this has been his target race,” the trainer said. Jockey Mirco Demuro has ridden the horse in all six of his victories and will be looking to change his luck in recent Grade 1 races.
K T Brave: Coming off a win in the recent JBC Classic over 1,900 meters at Kyoto in November, the 5-year-old has 11 wins and seven seconds from a 31-race career, making him one of the most experienced dirt performers in Japan right now. Jockey Yuichi Fukunaga has partnered K T Brave in 13 races, so knows the horse better than anyone. The horse hails from the stable of Haruki Sugiyama. “It was a fast race last time, and he was further back than usual until after the third corner, when he really started to pick up and got to run his own race after that. It showed that he can run well however the race is run, and it was a good race to lead him into this one,” the trainer said.
Gold Dream: Last year’s dual Grade 1 winner of the February Stakes and Champions Cup, the 5-year-old also finished second in this year’s February Stakes, making him one of the most consistent dirt horses in the country. He’s coming off a second-place finish to Le Vent Se Leve in the Mile Championship Nambu Hai. Trainer Osamu Hirata commented: “He’s a horse that can change gears well, and he’s best suited to courses like Tokyo and Chukyo with their long straights. He adjusted well to things in the Nambu Hai though. He’s had his usual break at Northern Farm Shigaraki and come back to the stable his usual self.”
Sunrise Soar: A horse that relishes being up with the pace, the 4-year-old colt will have jockey Joao Moreira in the saddle this time, and although it will be the horse’s first time at Chukyo, he has run well at Tokyo on his trips over to that course from his Ritto Training Center base at trainer Hiroshi Kawachi’s stable. “Last time out in the backstraight, another horse decided to force the pace, putting in a very fast sectional time. That made it hard, and a more natural pace would have been better. The horse came out of the race fine and comes to his best at this time of year,” the trainer said.
Omega Perfume: Another representing the 3-year-old generation, Omega Perfume has never finished outside the top three in his seven-race career. Bred at Shadai Farm, he was something of a bargain buy at the 2017 Chiba Thoroughbred Sale, and he will be the big race ride of jockey Cristian Demuro on Sunday. Trainer Shogo Yasuda commented: “Things picked up quickly last time in the backstraight of the race, and being up against older horses as well, it wasn’t easy, but he came home well enough to finish second. In the meantime, we’ve had him in the pool and have taken care of him, not overdoing things.”
Sunrise Nova: Sire Gold Allure is well represented in the race, and 4-year-old colt Sunrise Nova is in top form, winning his last three races, two of them over 1,600 meters. He’s been sent off favorite in his last five starts and has only been unplaced once in 2018, when he finished fourth in the Grade 1 February Stakes. Trainer Hidetaka Otonashi said, “He’s been better at the gate recently and has shown good closing speed in his races. He’s become easier to ride. The key point this time will be handling the four corners of the race and getting his finish in.”
Ange Desir: The only filly among the nominations, the daughter of Deep Impact will be taking on her first Grade 1 this time, but is coming off a win in the JBC Ladies Classic last time over 1,800 meters at Kyoto. She is trained by Ritto-based Mitsugu Kon, a six time winner of JRA Grade 1 races. The trainer said, “The rotation seems fine for her as she seems to be improving with her races. She’s in good condition as we look ahead to this race with her.”