Champions Cup (G1) - Preview
After a thrilling Japan Cup last Sunday, this week will see some of Japan’s top dirt horses take on the Grade 1 Champions Cup at Chukyo Racecourse on Sunday, December 6. It will be the 21st running of the race that was formerly known as the Japan Cup Dirt. First run in the year 2000, it was originally a 2,100-meter race held at Tokyo, but was later switched to Hanshin in 2008 and run over 1,800 meters. It found its current home at Chukyo in 2014, when it also became known as the Champions Cup that same year.
There are 18 nominations for a maximum 16 runner field this time around. The race is for 3-year-olds and up and is run over 1,800 meters on the dirt track at Chukyo. It is the final leg of the Japan Autumn International Series of races, and up until now a total number of 29 horses from overseas have taken on the race, the last one being Pavel from America in 2018. Fleetstreet Dancer has been the only foreign horse to win the race, back in 2003. There will unfortunately be no horses from abroad this year.
A few JRA races leading up to the Champions Cup this year have been the Grade 3 Elm Stakes over 1,700 meters at Sapporo in August, the Grade 3 Miyako Stakes over 1,800 meters at Hanshin in November, and the Grade 3 Tokyo Chunichi Sports Hai Musashino Stakes over 1,600 meters at Tokyo, also in November. In the last ten years, just three first favorites have won the Champions Cup, and four 5-year-olds have won the race in the same time period, with just five 3-year-old winners in the history of the race, although this has included two in the last two years. The now 4-year-old colt Chrysoberyl not only won last year, but shaved 1.6 seconds off the previous race record time, which had been equalled by three horses in consecutive years, namely Sound True (2016), Gold Dream (2017), and Le Vent Se Leve (2018). Chrysoberyl will be back for another go at the race this year, as well as an attempt to beat his own time of 1 minute 48.5 seconds. This year’s winner’s check is JPY100 million (just under USD1 million).
Final declarations and the barrier draw will come out later in the week. The Grade 1 Champions Cup will be Race 11 on the Sunday card at Chukyo, with a post time locally of 15:30.
Here’s a look at some of the top dirt horses expected to take on the race:
Chrysoberyl - Last year’s winner, the colt by Gold Allure will take some pegging back this time as well. The only loss to his name came when he raced in Saudi Arabia in February this year. Otherwise he has a perfect record of eight wins in all his other eight races, where he has started favorite six times, and has produced some impressive wins, including his latest race, the JBC Classic at Oi in November over 2,000 meters. Assistant trainer Kenichi Shono said, “It was a strong win last time in the JBC Classic, and his responses were really very good. He had some time at the farm after that and came back to the stable on the 14th, and since returning he’s looked in good order.” The horse’s regular jockey, Yuga Kawada, looks set to take the ride again.
Cafe Pharoah - The American bred 3-year-old colt by American Pharoah has loomed large on the dirt scene recently, with just one loss from his five-race career to date. He was a short-priced favorite last time when he won the Grade 3 Sirius Stakes over 1,900 meters at Chukyo in October. Trainer Noriyuki Hori said, “His prize money total has turned out to be enough to get him into this race without a run in the Musashino Stakes, so given this situation, he’s been at the stable since his last race. We’re able to prepare him for a run here and he’s trained well up to now.” Jockey Christophe Lemaire, who notched four G1 victories in November alone, will be in the saddle seeking another one here.
Arctos - It will be just the second start in a JRA Grade 1 race for the 5-year-old, after he finished ninth in this year’s February Stakes. He was able to turn the tables, however, on the latter race’s winner when he beat Mozu Ascot in his latest race, the Mile Championship Nambu Hai at Morioka over 1,600 meters in October, which he won narrowly. “After his last race, he went to the farm. He might get a bit stiffer in winter, but he’s in very good condition, as he showed in his last race, and with the power he’s got, he should be fine taking on the 1,800 meters this time,” said trainer Toru Kurita. Arctos has eight wins from seventeen starts.
Sunrise Nova - The 6-year-old has a good race record in his thirty starts, finishing in the first three eighteen times, which have included ten wins. He was sixth in the Champions Cup in 2018, and he’s tuned up for this year’s race with a strong win in the Grade 3 Tokyo Chunichi Sports Hai Musashino Stakes at Tokyo in November. Assistant trainer Kenichi Shono said, “He got to run his own race last time and showed good finishing speed. It’s the best way for him to race, if he can save things until the end and then get switched for a late run down the outside.” Trainer Hidetaka Otonashi looks like being doubly represented in the race, for as well as Sunrise Nova, he also trains Chrysoberyl. The trainer has thirteen JRA Grade 1 wins, and the latter gave him his only Champions Cup victory last year.
Chuwa Wizard - Another runner whose consistency is certainly his top salespoint, the 5-year-old by King Kamehameha has only been unplaced once in seventeen starts, and has nine wins to his name. He finished fourth in last year’s Champions Cup. He had his first race since June at Oi last month, when he finished third to Chrysoberyl in the JBC Classic. Trainer Ryuji Okubo was pleased with his latest race. “It was his first race in a while last time, and I thought he might need the run, but he ran smoothly, and with an aggressive first up race, I think it leads him nicely into this one,” said the trainer.
Gold Dream - If there’s one horse to be a flag-bearer for dirt racing in Japan over the past five years, it would be Gold Dream. The Northern Farm bred 7-year-old won the Champions Cup in 2017, and ran second in the race last year, as well as having very good overall race results. He finished just sixth in the Mile Championship Nambu Hai last time, but trainer Osamu Hirata believes he’s capable of better. “Last time out, the rain made it a quick race, and he couldn’t finish any closer than he did. In the meantime, he’s been working well on the woodchip course with two other horses and seems very well, not showing his age at all,” said Hirata.Clincher - The 6-year-old by Deep Sky is better known as a turf performer, and it’s on that surface that he’s competed in seven JRA Grade 1 races, as well as being a 2018 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe representative for Japan. He’s been taking on dirt races since the beginning of this year, and after a good win in the Grade 3 Miyako Stakes last time, he comes into the reckoning here. “It was a perfect win last time when he showed his power, and the jockey must also take credit for it. The horse has been tuning up nicely in training and he’ll put in some strong work before the race,” commented trainer Hiroshi Miyamoto. Jockey Kosei Miura looks set to get the big race ride.