Welcome back to our annual series of newsletters leading up to the 2019 Japan Cup (G1, 2,400m). The fall racing season is heading towards the Japan Autumn International Series, which will be held over four weekends between Nov. 10 and Dec. 1 and comprise four prestigious G1 races: the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1, 2,200m), the Mile Championship (G1, 1,600m), the Japan Cup and the Champions Cup (G1, dirt, 1,800m). Total prize money for the four G1 events will amount to ¥1.33 billion (US$11.6m), with additional bonuses for winners of designated overseas G1 events who also finish within the top three in any of the four races. Also, winners of designated overseas races who finish outside the top three places in the Japan Cup will still be guaranteed an incentive of US$100,000.
Last year’s Japan Cup was won by Almond Eye (JPN, F4, by Lord Kanaloa). Then still a three-year-old, the filly won the 2,400-meter race in 2:20.6, renewing the previous record by 1.5 seconds. The former record holder, Alkaased (USA, by Kingmambo), winner of the 2005 Japan Cup for Britain, remains the last foreign victor in the Japan Cup. Satono Diamond (JPN, by Deep Impact), Satono Crown (JPN, by Marju) and Sounds of Earth (JPN, by Neo Universe), who finished sixth, ninth and 12th, respectively, have all retired from racing as of the end of last year, but the top five finishers from the 2018 Japan Cup have continued to turn in consistent results this year.
Global attention focused on Almond Eye in her overseas debut in March, where the Lord Kanaloa filly demonstrated her brilliant turn of speed to claim her fifth G1 title in the Dubai Turf (G1, 1,800m). Her easy victory on foreign ground raised hopes for Japan’s much-awaited Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1, 2,400m) title, but her connections decided against racing her on an unfamiliar surface and course following a long journey, so they quickly announced in mid-April that they did not intend to fly her to France.
She was unlucky in her comeback start in June’s Yasuda Kinen (G1, 1,600m), getting bumped right after the start. Forced to race from behind, she encountered traffic at the straight and finished third, ending her winning streak at seven. Her fall campaign is scheduled to begin with the Tenno Sho (Autumn) (G1, 2,000m) on Oct. 27. Another overseas trip, this time to Hong Kong, is said to be under consideration, lowering the chance of defending her title in the 2019 Japan Cup.
2018 Japan Cup runner-up Kiseki (JPN, H5, by Rulership) was largely responsible for Almond Eye’s record-breaking victory, setting a fast pace for most of the 2,400-meter trip before the son of Rulership finally gave way in the last furlong. The tough battle caught up with him in the following Arima Kinen (G1, 2,500m), where he again attempted to lead all the way but lost steam and finished fifth. Nevertheless, the five-year-old remained consistent with runner-up efforts in the Osaka Hai (G1, 2,000m) and the Takarazuka Kinen (G1, 2,200m) this spring. Although winless since the Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger, G1, 3,000m) in October 2017, he has contended prominently in the past 12 months with three seconds and a third out of five G1 starts. Kiseki arrived in France on August 21 and is under training for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Suave Richard (JPN, H5, by Heart’s Cry), third in the 2018 Japan Cup, passed up the Arima Kinen and returned to racing in February this year in the Nakayama Kinen (G2, 1,800m), where he overcame the tight turn on Nakayama’s 1,800-meter course and finished fourth. He made his overseas debut in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1, 2,410m) and showed good closing speed from the rear, finishing third. He was third again in his comeback start in the Takarazuka Kinen, by 0.8 second, racing near the frontrunners. The son of Heart’s Cry will kick off his fall campaign in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) with a high possibility of returning to the Japan Cup.
The 2018 Japan Cup fourth-place finisher, Cheval Grand (JPN, H7, by Heart’s Cry), still had enough in the following Arima Kinen to close impressively from behind to finish third. The seven-year-old son of Heart’s Cry was also impressive in his overseas debut, the Dubai Sheema Classic, closing strongly from behind to finish second a half-length in front of Suave Richard. After a short break back in Japan, Cheval Grand flew to the United Kingdom for two more overseas challenges—the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (G1, 2,390m) in July and the International Stakes (G1, 2,050m) in August—but was unable to show his best form on foreign ground against European racing styles, beaten to sixth and eighth, respectively. The 2017 Japan Cup winner’s plan for the remainder of fall is still undetermined.
Mikki Swallow (JPN, H5, by Tosen Homareboshi), fifth in the 2018 Japan Cup, was well beaten to 11th in the year-end Arima Kinen and stepped down in class for the first half of this year. In three G3 starts, the son of Tosen Homareboshi started with a runner-up effort in the Niigata Daishoten (2,000m) but then suffered from a slow pace and was defeated to 10th in the following Epsom Cup (1,800m). He bounced back to score his first win in 22 months in the Tanabata Sho (2,000m) on July 7, carrying a top weight of 57.5kg, and then closed in well from mid-division to finish second in the All Comers (G2, 2,200m) on Sept. 22.
Notable horses that did not start in last year’s Japan Cup included 2018 Kikuka Sho winner Fierement (JPN, C4, by Deep Impact) and Arima Kinen victor Blast Onepiece (JPN, C4, by Harbinger), both of whom will be challenging the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Fierement landed his second G1 title this April in the Tenno Sho (Spring) and was third in the Sapporo Kinen (G2, 2,000m) in August.
Blast Onepiece was not as impressive this spring, finishing sixth and eighth in the Osaka Hai and the Meguro Kinen (G2, 2,500m), respectively, but improved to score his first win of the season in the Sapporo Kinen prior to going abroad. The two colts, both bred at Northern Farm, are stationed at Newmarket in the United Kingdom and training towards the Arc.
Rey de Oro (JPN, H5, by King Kamehameha), the 2017 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby, G1, 2,400m) victor and runner-up in the Japan Cup that same year, scored his second G1 title last year in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) and finished an impressive second in the following Arima Kinen. But he has been struggling this year, beaten to sixth in the Dubai Sheema Classic and finishing a distant fifth in his comeback start in the Takarazuka Kinen. The son of King Kamehameha was still not at his best in his fall comeback, the All Comers where he failed to defend his 2018 title and finished fourth. He will run in two of three possible starts—the Tenno Sho (Autumn), the Japan Cup and the Arima Kinen.
Al Ain (JPN, H5, by Deep Impact), the 2017 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas, G1, 2,000m) champion, consistent but winless since his first G1 victory, landed his second G1 title this year in the Osaka Hai as ninth favorite. He was fourth by 1.1 seconds in the Takarazuka Kinen and will head from his summer break directly to the Tenno Sho (Autumn), after which he will likely start in the Mile Championship (G1, 1,600m), where he finished third last year.
Win Bright (JPN, H5, by Stay Gold) finished no higher than eighth in four G1 challenges in Japan before capturing his first G1 title in Hong Kong’s Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1, 2,000m) in April this year. He will return for the Hong Kong Cup (G1, 2,000m) on December 8 after his fall comeback in the All Comers, where he showed little initiative after racing in striking position to finish ninth, and then the Tenno Sho (Autumn).
Wagnerian (JPN, C4, by Deep Impact) won the 2018 Tokyo Yushun and followed up with an impressive victory in the Kobe Shimbun Hai (G2, 2,400m), after which he was given the rest of the season off due to health reasons. He has been raced sparingly and has started just twice in his four-year-old season—finishing third in the Osaka Hai in March and then waiting until August to finish fourth in the Sapporo Kinen despite losing both front shoes. He will aim for further G1 titles this fall in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) and Japan Cup, both at Tokyo Racecourse where he has scored two wins in as many starts.
Another starter hoping to bounce back in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) is 2017 Best Two-Year-Old Colt Danon Premium (JPN, C4, by Deep Impact) who, after back-to-back wins in the Kinko Sho (G2, 2,000m) and the Milers Cup (G2, 1,600m), encountered disadvantages in the Yasuda Kinen to finish 16th.
The Queen Elizabeth II Cup on Nov. 10 will miss defending champion Lys Gracieux (JPN, M5, by Heart’s Cry). After her second G1 victory in the Takarazuka Kinen in June, she will travel to Australia for the Cox Plate (G1, 2,040m) on Oct. 26, although she was initially intended to run in the U.S. Breeders Cup.
Normcore (JPN, F4, by Harbinger) hopes to make her comeback this fall, possibly for the Fuji Stakes (G3, 1,600m) on Oct. 19, after sustaining a chip fracture to her left pastern following a record-breaking victory in the Victoria Mile (G1, 1,600m) in May, where she covered the 1,600-meter distance in 1:30.5
Mikki Charm (JPN, F4, by Deep Impact), 2018 Shuka Sho runner-up and one of the favorites for the coming Queen Elizabeth II Cup, came off a victory in the Hanshin Himba Stakes (G2, 1,600m) in April and was beaten to eighth in the Victoria Mile, but bounced back to win the Queen Stakes (G3, 1,800m) in July before her summer break. The Deep Impact four-year-old will pass up the main prep race, the Fuchu Himba Stakes (G2, 1,800m) on Oct. 14, which will include 2017 Best Two-Year-Old Filly Lucky Lilac (JPN, F4, by Orfevre) and Crocosmia (JPN, M6, by Stay Gold), the Queen Elizabth II Cup runner-up in 2017 and 2018. Mikki Charm will be joined by these two in this year’s Queen Elizabeth II Cup in November, where they will face three-year-old fillies coming off the Shuka Sho.
The Mile Championship (G1, 1,600m), scheduled on Nov. 17 this year, has been won by three-year-old colts in the past two seasons. One of the three-year-old colts slated to run this year is 2018 Best Two-Year-Old Colt Admire Mars (JPN, C3, by Daiwa Major), who came off a fourth-place finish in the Satsuki Sho in April to claim his second G1 title in the NHK Mile Cup (G1, 1,600m) a month later. He will make his fall comeback in the Fuji Stakes.
Stelvio (JPN, C4, by Lord Kanaloa), the Mile Championship defending champion, concluded his spring campaign with an eighth in the Yasuda Kinen. The son of champion sprinter/miler Lord Kanaloa was intended to step down in distance to 1,200 meters for the first time in the Sprinters Stakes (G1, 1,200m) on Sept. 29, but he had to be withdrawn due to an infection in his right eye. He is hoped to recover in time for a possible start in this year’s Mile Championship.
Indy Champ (JPN, C4, by Stay Gold) is an improving colt who won his four-year-old debut, the Tokyo Shimbun Hai (G3, 1,600m), after capping off his three-year-old campaign with two consecutive wins. Coming off a fourth-place finish in the following Milers Cup, the Stay Gold colt captured his first G1 title in the Yasuda Kinen, his first attempt at the top level. Headed towards the Mile Championship, he will kick off the latter half of his 2019 season in the Mainichi Okan (G2, 1,800m) on Oct. 6, facing 2017 Mile Championship champion Persian Knight (JPN, H5, by Harbinger), 2018 NHK Mile Cup victor Keiai Nautique (JPN, C4, by Deep Impact) and 2018 Yasuda Kinen winner Mozu Ascot (USA, H5, by Frankel).
Le Vent Se Leve (JPN, C4, by Symboli Kris S) became the first three-year-old in 13 years to claim the Champions Cup title last year, but a suspensory desmitis sustained in his left foreleg thereafter continues to trouble the Symboli Kris S colt. His return to racing is still undetermined. Inti (JPN, H5, by Came Home), who landed his first G1 start in this year’s February Stakes (G1, dirt, 1,600m), extending his winning streak to seven, finished second and sixth in his following two starts, the Kashiwa Kinen (dirt, 1,600m) in May and the Teio Sho (dirt, 2,000m) in June, respectively. The late-developing son of Came Home will make his fall comeback in the Miyako Stakes (G3, dirt, 1,800m) on Nov. 3 and then the Champion Cup on Dec. 1.
Gold Dream (JPN, H6, by Gold Allure), the 2017 Champions Cup winner and Best Dirt Horse (2017), passed up the 2018 edition of the fall dirt G1 due to a minor leg problem. He finished a neck second in this year’s February Stakes and in his next start, the Kashiwa Kinen, won comfortably by a 1-1/2 length margin. His fall comeback will be the Mile Championship Nambu Hai (dirt, 1,600m) on Oct. 14, where he will face Kawasaki Kinen (dirt, 2,100m) winner Mitsuba (JPN, H7, by Kane Hekili). Omega Perfume (JPN, C4, by Swept Overboard), who won his first G1 title in the Tokyo Daishoten (G1, dirt, 2,000m) late last year, was defeated to 10th in the February Stakes but bounced back to win the Teio Sho. He will kick off his fall season in the JBC Classic (dirt, 2,000m) on Nov. 4.
The Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas, G1, 1,600m) and Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks, G1, 2,400m) – both three-year-old fillies’ classics – were won by Gran Alegria (JPN, F3, by Deep Impact) and Loves Only You (JPN, F3, by Deep Impact), respectively. The last leg of the fillies’ triple crown, the Shuka Sho on Oct. 13, will not feature either winner – the former, although targeted at the Sprinters Stakes, was withdrawn due to a hoof abscess found in her left foreleg during training, and the latter also came up with a hoof infection in her right foreleg during her summer break. Chrono Genesis (JPN, F3, by Bago), third in both the Oka Sho and the Yushun Himba, is scheduled to head straight to the Shuka Sho.
Yushun Himba runner-up Curren Bouquetd’or (JPN, F3, by Deep Impact) finished a close third in a Shuka Sho trial race, the Shion Stakes (G3, 2,000m), on Sept. 7. Shion Stakes winner Passing Through (JPN, F3, by Rulership) and Fairy Polka (JPN, F3, by Rulership), who finished a nose behind in second, both earned berths in the last fillies’ G1 race. The Rose Stakes (G2, 1,800m), another Shuka Sho trial, was won by 2018 Best Two-Year-Old Filly Danon Fantasy (JPN, F3, by Deep Impact) in a record time of 1:44.4. Also qualifying for the fillies’ G1 were Beach Samba (JPN, F3, by Kurofune) and Victoria (JPN, F3, by Victoire Pisa), who finished narrowly in second and third, respectively, but officially in the same time as the winner. Victoria, however, was later found to have a suspensory desmitis in her left foreleg so will not start in the Shuka Sho.
The last leg of the Triple Crown, the Kikuka Sho on Oct. 20, will likely miss the winners of its first two races. Tokyo Yushun victor Roger Barows (JPN, by Deep Impact) has retired after being diagnosed with superficial digital flexor tendonitis in his right foreleg and Satsuki Sho winner Saturnalia (JPN, C3, by Lord Kanaloa) appears to be targeting the Tenno Sho (Autumn) following his win in the Kobe Shimbun Hai on Sept. 22. Danon Kingly (JPN, C3, by Deep Impact), third in the Satsuki Sho and runner-up in the Tokyo Yushun, is also aiming to run in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) after the Mainichi Okan.
Velox (JPN, C3, by Just a Way), who finished second and third in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, in that order, validated his status as the likely Kikuka Sho favorite in the Kobe Shimbun Hai, a Kikuka Sho trial. Although unable to match the extraordinary speed of winner Saturnalia, who drew away with tremendous pace to a three-length victory, he nevertheless was 1-1/4 lengths in front of World Premier (JPN, C3, by Deep Impact), who also earned a berth in the last leg of the Triple with a third-place finish. Lion Lion (JPN, C3, by Rulership), winner of the Aoba Sho (G2, 2,400m) in April, landed his second grade-race title in another Kikuka Sho trial, the St. Lite Kinen (G2, 2,200m) on Sept. 16. Satono Lux (JPN, C3, by Deep Impact) and Zadar (JPN, C3, by Tosen Ra) qualified for the last Triple Crown leg in second and third, respectively.