The Japan Cup (G1, 2,400m) was established in 1981 with the aim of raising the standard of Japanese thoroughbreds to world-class level. In the early years, the difference in strength between our local thoroughbreds and the invited runners from overseas was clear—the foreign horses won easily in the first three running. However, the Japanese-trained horses have gradually improved up to the stage where, so far, they have gained a big lead in win and losses in the past Japan Cup by winning 27 out of 41 starts—the most recent victory by a foreign-trained horse was in the 25th (2005) running by Alkaased.
Moreover, the Japan Cup was ranked third among the annual list of top 100 G1 races in the world published by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) in 2020, which goes to show how much the race has contributed to raising the level of horse racing in Japan. The improvement in the level of Japanese horses can also be seen in the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings (LWBRR). Ten years ago in 2011, there were 29 Japanese-trained horses among a total of 351 horses listed with a rating of 115 or higher, but in 2021, 42 out of 279 horses were trained in Japan. The Japan Cup, which will be held for the 42nd time this year, gained favorable response from our invitees thanks to the new international stables at Tokyo Racecourse completed this year, which allow horses to enter directly from the airport without going through quarantine at the Horse Racing School—connections of six foreign runners initially accepted the invitation to run and although two have since withdrawn their entry, four are taking part this year.
Now, let's take a look at the key Japanese horses that will take on these four visitors. Although the lineup from Japan includes last year’s Japanese Derby winner, there may not as many high quality runners compared to previous years, giving the invitees a better chance to take home the Japan Cup title after a long absence.
Shahryar (JPN, C4, by Deep Impact) 120L, 4 wins / 9 starts
Winner of the 2021 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby, G1, 2,400m), Shahryar finished third behind Contrail as a three-year-old in last year’s Japan Cup and kicked off his four-year-old campaign impressively in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1, 2,410m), beating high profile runners such as Yibir, Pyledriver and Alenquer on the international stage. He was unable to show his strength in the following Prince of Wales’s Stakes (G1, 1,990m) in Britain, finishing fourth. Fifth in his fall comeback, the Tenno Sho (Autumn) (G1, 2,000m) after a long break, Shahryar is aiming for his third G1 title in the Japan Cup which is held over the same course and distance as the Tokyo Yushun. The only Deep Impact progeny in this year’s lineup, Shahryar, while relatively small built, is known for his quick turn of speed. Rated 120 following his victory in the Tokyo Yushun and the Dubai Sheema Classic.
Danon Beluga (JPN, C3, by Heart's Cry) 120I, 2w/5sts
One of the most prominent colts among the three-year-old group, Danon Beluga finished fourth in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas, G1, 2,000m) and the Tokyo Yushun, this year. His ability can be measured by his performances such as in the Kyodo News Hai (G3, 1,800m), where he overtook subsequent Satsuki Sho victor Geoglyph for his second career victory after one win in his only start as a two-year-old, and his third-place finish in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) where he was timed the second fastest over the last three furlongs at 32.8 seconds after fellow three-year-old and winner Equinox whose finishing speed was 32.7. Viewing from the fact that Equinox dominated one of the highest quality G1 field of older foes in the Tenno Sho (Autumn), the three-year-old generation of this season is highly competitive and their showdown against the three-year-old runners from abroad will be closely watched. Rated 120 as of his third-place finish in the Tenno Sho (Autumn).
Daring Tact (JPN, M5, by Epiphaneia) 113L, 5w/12sts
Winner of the 2020 fillies’ Triple Crown, Daring Tact made her first challenge undefeated against a mixed field of older G1 foes in the Japan Cup that year in which she was third behind Almond Eye and Contrail and earned a rating of 119. She had just two starts in her four-year-old season due to injury but returned in May this year and showed good form in her second outing in the Takarazuka Kinen (G1, 2,200m), finishing third to Titleholder. While unable to meet expectation as race favorite in her last start, the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1, 2,200m), the Epiphaneia mare is definitely up to this level of competition if she can bring out her true form. Rated 113 as of her third-place finish in the Takarazuka Kinen.
Uberleben (JPN, F4, by Gold Ship) 113L, 2w/13sts
Winner of the 2021 Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks, G1, 2,400m), Uberleben has just two career wins including the Oaks but has turned in consistent results against high quality fields and was sixth in last year’s Japan Cup, just a neck behind fifth-place finisher Grand Glory. The Gold Ship filly was fifth in the Dubai Sheema Classic in March, out-finishing Britain’s multiple group-race winner Alenquer (6th). She is known for her strong late charge from behind. Rated 113 as of her victory in the Yushun Himba, sixth-place finish in the Japan Cup and fifth-place finish in the Dubai Sheema Classic.
Boccherini (JPN, H6, by King Kamehameha) 113L, 6w/21sts
Winner of the 2020 Chunichi Shimbun Hai (G3, 2,000m), Boccherini claimed his second grade-race title carrying top weight (57.5kg) in this year’s Meguro Kinen (G2, 2,500m). The son of King Kamehameha has proven consistent in other grade races and the six-year-old will be making his G1 debut in the coming Japan Cup at Tokyo Racecourse where he has won two out of as many starts. He is also a full brother to two-time G1 winner Lovely Day. Rated 113 as of his victory in the Meguro Kinen.
T O Royal (JPN, C4, by Leontes) 113E, 5w/12sts
An improving colt with a four-race winning streak leading to a grade-race victory in the Diamond Stakes (G3, 3,400m) in his four-year-old debut this year, T O Royal continued to impress in his G1 debut, the Tenno Sho (Spring) (G1, 3,200m), finishing third to Titleholder. The durable Leontes colt also excels at 2,400 meters, having registered 3 wins from 4 starts. Although unable to meet expectation as race favorite, finishing sixth in his latest Copa Republica Argentina (G2, 2,500m), partly owing to a disadvantage just before the stretch run where he was affected by another rival on his inside, hopes are high for the talented colt to bounce back and emerge into contention from a forward position in the coming G1. Rated 113 as of his third-place finish in the Tenno Sho (Spring).
Weltreisende (JPN, H5, by Dream Journey) 112I, 3w/11sts
Showing ability from early in his career, finishing second in the Hopeful Stakes (G1, 2,000m) as a two-year-old, Weltreisende registered a third in the Tokyo Yushun in the following year but had just one start as a four-year-old before being sidelined with a tendon injury for 16 months. The son of Dream Journey immediately demonstrated his talent in his comeback start following the long break, beating subsequent Queen Elizabeth II Cup victor Geraldina in the Naruo Kinen (G3, 2,000m). Although struggling after having to race wide and finishing seventh in his fall debut, the All Comers (G2, 2,200m), where the race worked in favor of those racing inside, expectations are high for the five-year-old to perform to his best with his Naruo Kinen partner Damian Lane and at Tokyo Racecourse where he finished third in the Tokyo Yushun over the same course and distance as the Japan Cup. Rated 112 as of his victory in the Naruo Kinen.
Vela Azul (JPN, H5, by Eishin Flash) 112L, 5w/21sts
A former dirt specialist with 16 career starts since his three-year-old debut, Vela Azul has yet to test his limits after successfully shifting to turf and registering 3-0-2 out of five starts including a grade-race victory over Boccherini in his latest Kyoto Daishoten (G2, 2,400m). While he will be facing a much tougher field this time, his sharp turn of speed will be put to the test in his G1 debut. Rated 112 as of his victory in the Kyoto Daishoten.