Twenty one horses are entered for the 36th running of the Japan Cup, at Tokyo Racecourse on Sunday, with 18 guaranteed a run.
This year, the JRA has boosted prize money by 50 million yen, with the winner of the Japan Cup netting an incredible 300 million yen. The total purse has been raised to 624 million yen.
This year, three horses from abroad have made the trip to Japan, two of them repeaters, all of them Grade 1 winners. France once again fields Erupt, and Germany fields two runners – first-time participant Iquitos and Nightflower, looking to better her 11th-place finish of last year.
Erupt has run in the money in three of his five starts this year and comes into this contest in fine form, having impressed in the Grade 1 Canadian International at Woodbine, a race that 1996 Japan Cup winner Singspiel had also won, though not immediately previous to his Japan Cup run. Last year,
Iquitos captured Germany’s most prestigious race, the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Baden at Baden-Baden in September, with Nightflower running second for the second year in a row. Earlier in the year Iquitos ran first and second in two Group II races, both in Germany. Iquitos followed the Preis von Europa with a run in the Grosser Preis von Bayern at Munich and finished fourth.
Nightflower is herself coming off a win in the Group 1 Preis von Europa at Cologne, in which Iquitos ran fifth. It was Nightflower’s second win of the race in a row.
Victory for a German-trained horse would be a first in 21 years, with Landau being the only horse to succeed from that country back in 1995.
If Erupt can win for France it will be that nation’s second win in the race, the first since Le Glorieux in 1987.
The three representatives from the world beyond Japan’s borders have a tough challenge ahead of them though – attempting to turn the tables on the locals’ stronghold of 10 wins in a row.
Foreign trained horses have been successful on no fewer than 14 occasions, but the last to do so was in 2005, when Alkaased prevailed. Alkaased still holds the race record as well as the course record of 2 minutes, 22.1 seconds.
Only one horse from abroad has returned to the Japan Cup for a second try. That was Ireland’s Stanerra, who won the third running of the race in 1983.
The home team too sees plenty of previous Japan Cup runners returning for another bid, and all are looking to notch their first win of the year.
Last Impact was runner-up by a neck in 2015, followed by fourth-place finisher Jungle Cruise. Fifth over the line was Sounds of Earth and 2014 Derby winner One and Only ran seventh last year. Hit the Target crossed the line in 13th place.
This year sees three fillies line-up, the 4-year-olds Rouge Buck and Nightflower, along with the 3-year-old filly Biche, third-place finisher in the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks).
Kitasan Black is a leading local contender to keep the prize on home soil, along with Gold Actor.
Four starts this year have seen him run second in the Grade 2 Nikkei Osaka Hai, first in the Grade 1 Tenno Sho (Spring), followed by a third in the Grade 1 Takarazuka Kinen and last time out he landed the Grade 2 Kyoto Daishoten.
The 4-year-old son of Black Tide wrapped up last year with a second in the Grade 2 Asahi Hai St. Lite Kinen, first in the Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger) and a third in the Grade 1 Arima Kinen (Grand Prix). That is seven races straight in the money, four of them top level, four of them wins, two at the top level.
The 5 year old Gold Actor is a son of 2008 Japan Cup winner Screen Hero, who triumphed in the Arima Kinen (Grand Prix) last year for his first Grade 1 victory and fourth win in a row.
This year he has had just the three starts, two of them winning ones. After winning the Nikkei Sho, he ran 12th in the Tenno Sho (Spring), then returned to the track after nearly five months to land the Sankei Sho All Comers, a Grade 2 over 2,200 meters at Nakayama.
With two previous wins at Tokyo, one an open-class over 2,400 meters and the other the Grade 2 Copa Republica Argentina a half furlong more, Gold Actor is considered primed for success on Sunday.
Real Steel is set to have the services of Japanese favourite Ryan Moore, riding in Japan on a short-term license. That booking will surely be a major factor in lowering odds on the Deep Impact-sired 4-year-old.
This colt has, in 11 starts, won three times, but he has run second five times, making his record a frustrating if consistent one.
In March, Moore got the ride over regular rider Yukichi Fukunaga in the Dubai Turf and won the 1,800-meter Grade 1 by half a length. He later ran second in the Tenno Sho (Autumn).
Real Steel’s wins thus far have all come over 1,800 meters and the Japan Cup distance is one slight concern. His two starts over 12 furlongs ended in a fourth in the 2015 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) and a second in the Kobe Shimbun Hai at Hanshin at the end of September.
Dee Majesty was the winner of the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas). The Deep Impact colt scored a third and fourth in the other two classics in the Japanese Triple Crown and two wins at the graded level, including the 1,800-meter Kyodo News Service Hai at Tokyo.
The 3 year old received a 2kg weight advantage but connections said the colt rapped his hoof hard during the Kikuka Sho and that he still had room for improvement condition-wise as well, both possible factors in the loss.
Cheval Grand, a 4-year-old, a son of Heart’s Cry, finished third in the spring version of the Tenno Sho this year, and followed that up with a ninth in the Grade 1 Takarazuka Kinen.
After a four month break, he returned with victory in the Grade 2 Copa Republica Argentina at Tokyo on Nov. 6.