2015 Japan Cup (G1) in association with Longines - Preview
Team Japan will look to make it 10 in a row at the Japan Cup on Nov. 29 at Tokyo Racecourse, where the hosts appear poised to extend a rude welcoming to the quartet of horses from overseas – Trip to Paris, Erupt, Ito and Nightflower.
No foreign horse has won Japan’s richest race – 300 million yen goes to the winner – since Alkaased, under Lanfranco Dettori, topped the podium in 2005. Since then, Ouija Board’s third-place finish in 2006 has been the highest by a foreign raider; last year, Ivanhowe was sixth and Up With the Birds 16th while Trading Leather pulled up and did not finish the race.
Fifteen Japanese horses have been nominated for a full field of 18 for the 35th edition of the JRA’s international showpiece, with the in-form Lovely Day expected to be the favorite at the morning line.
Lovely Day, the 5-year-old King Kamehameha son trained by Yasutoshi Ikee, has had a breakout season in 2015 with six graded wins from eight starts, including a pair of Grade 1s in the Takarazuka Kinen and Tenno Sho (Autumn). A win next Sunday in the 2,400-meter contest will see him join a very select circle of horses with seven graded victories in a calendar year featuring Oguri Cap in 1988 and T.M.Opera O in 2000.
Lifting the Japan Cup will also all but guarantee Lovely Day’s being named the JRA’s Horse of the Year.
“He got off to a faster start than A Shin Hikari which took me by surprise, but he traveled in the position we had hoped he would,” Ikee said, looking back on the Nov. 1 Tenno Sho also at Tokyo. “He was patient at the end and it was comfortable for him. He was tough.
“He’s got strong legs like his father, is burly around the shoulders, and has really bulked up. I think he’s truly coming into his own. He’s already raced twice this fall so he’s fit – not that he’s ever been difficult to train. Three weeks in between starts won’t be a problem.
“I’ve been hearing that in Europe, they’re saying the Japanese horses aren’t very good this season. (Lovely Day) wasn’t even 100 percent in the Tenno Sho so I’m hoping he can go out and show just how good Japanese racehorses can be.”
Lovely Day won’t be the only one eyeing a piece of history in the Japan Cup. Gold Ship, targeting a JRA record-tying seventh G1 win, will make his first start since his infamous performance in the Takarazuka Kinen, where he acted up badly in the gate and wound up 15th out of 16 as the first choice.
Gold Ship will call it a career after the Arima Kinen (The Grand Prix) next month. He finished 15th in the 2013 Japan Cup but should he redeem himself next weekend with a seventh G1 victory, the Stay Gold horse out of the Mejiro McQueen mare Point Flag will sit side by side with JRA legends Symboli Rudolf, T.M.Opera O, Deep Impact and Vodka.
“He came back to the stable early in October and everything has gone well so far,” Gold Ship’s trainer Naosuke Sugai said. “He’s never any trouble in the workouts and passed his test in the barrier without a hitch. We’ll have the jockey (Norihiro Yokoyama) work him, really push him on the hill and get him switched on.
“He’s won at Tokyo so we’re not worried about his handling of the course. He’s in good shape and we just hope he starts well. It’s sad; I’ll miss him. I hope he runs his heart out these next two starts.”
Plotting to steal the show from Lovely Day and Gold Ship is Ikee’s talented 3-year-old Mikki Queen, who won the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) and Shuka Sho to capture two filly’s Triple Crown races. The Deep Impact-sired Mikki Queen, out of the Gold Away dam Musical Way, has won four of seven starts, never having finished under second.
The Queen Elizabeth II Cup was an option for Mikki Queen but Ikee found the 4 kg handicap for 3-year-old fillies in the Japan Cup alluring, with Gentildonna winning in 2012 as a 3-year-old and Denim and Ruby taking second two years ago.
"We have more time to prepare for this race than what we would have had for the Queen Elizabeth II Cup. Plus she'll be running under 53 kg," Ikee said. "She’s won the Oaks at Tokyo and she’ll need to improve her time, but if the pace picks up she shouldn’t have too difficult of a time getting into the flow of the race.
"I told (Suguru) Hamanaka at the paddock in the Shuka Sho to nudge her toward the front because I was certain she would stay under control. She set the tone for the race and won it. The victory was down to her quality and Hamanaka’s great riding."
The 2014 Shuka Sho champion, Shonan Pandora, was the only female horse in the fall Tenno Sho but stood out just as much for her performance, grabbing fourth place with the fastest finish in the field at 33.4 seconds. Yet trainer Tomokazu Takano was nowhere near satisfied, given her current condition and the upside he sees in the Deep Impact filly.
Shonan Pandora has been untested beyond 11 furlongs but Takano believes the dimensions of the Japan Cup will help get the most out of his horse.
“In the Tenno Sho, we couldn’t get into the position we wanted to get in after the start,” he said. “I don’t want to make any excuses but the outside barrier did make things difficult. But she still showed what she is capable of. She recovered quickly after the race and is raring to go.
“The longer distance will be good for her – we’ve been waiting for the 2,400 meters at Tokyo all long. We’re out for a tough race so we can find out what she’s really made of.”
While only five G1 winners from Japan are part of the field, a few others are of borderline top-level quality who could emerge as darkhorses: Sounds of Earth, runner-up in last year’s Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger); Admire Deus, the third choice in the spring Tenno Sho this year; and 8-year-old Pelusa, who was a narrow seventh in the fall Tenno Sho and set a JRA record for the longest period between wins at 5 years, 3 months.
Source (comments): Keiba Book, Nikkan Sports