Improving 3-year-old Japan (GB) nailed the 5-year-old Crystal Ocean (GB) in the shadow of the post to clinch a hard fought success in the Juddmonte International Stakes (G1) at York racecourse in Yorkshire, England, a victory that secured him a guaranteed start in the 2019 Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) through the international Breeders' Cup Challenge.
The Breeders' Cup Challenge is an international series of 86 stakes races, whose winners receive automatic starting positions and fees paid into a corresponding race of the Breeders' Cup World Championships, which will be held at Santa Anita Park, in Arcadia, California, Nov 1-2.
As part of the benefits of the Challenge series, the Breeders' Cup will pay the entry fees for Japan to start in the Breeders' Cup Classic, which will be run at 1 ¼ miles on dirt. Breeders' Cup will also provide a $40,000 travel allowance for all starters based outside of North America to compete in the World Championships.
Japan becomes the sixth horse to gain a “Win and You're In” berth into the Classic this year, joining Shegeio Takeda's 5-year-old Inti (JPN), winner of the February Stakes (G1) at Tokyo Racecourse on Feb. 17; Charles Fipke's 6-year-old Seeking the Soul, who won the Stephen Foster Handicap (G2) at Churchill Downs on June 15; Gary and Mary West's Maximum Security, winner of the Haskell Invitational (G1) on July 20; Mike Pegram Karl Watson and Paul Weitman's 4-year-old McKinzie, who won the Whitney (G1) at Saratoga on Aug. 3 and the 4-year-old Higher Power, who won last Saturday's Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar.
Japan (5-1), trained by Aidan O'Brien for Derrick Smith, Sue Magnier and Michael Tabor, began the year as his stable's leading Investec Derby (G1) candidate and even though his preparation was interrupted by a minor setback that delayed his comeback until 16 days before the Epsom Classic he finished an unlucky third, half a length behind race winning stablemate Anthony Van Dyck (IRE).
He confirmed his connections' high hopes were not misplaced with comfortable victories in the King Edward VII Stakes (G2) at Royal Ascot and Grand Prix de Paris (G1) at ParisLongchamp over a mile and a half and proved himself just as good back in distance when collaring Crystal Ocean, the 11-10 favorite, to win by a neck.
Crystal Ocean, the Longines IFHA highest rated horse in the world on the strength of wins in the Prince of Wales's Stakes (G1) and a second place behind mare Enable (GB) in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (G1), did not go down without a fight. Ridden prominently from the outset, he engaged early in the straight with the winner's stablemate, the pacesetting Circus Maximus (IRE), to take the lead with over two furlongs to run and when Japan joined him, briefly had his head in front again before giving way. Elarqam (GB) (8-1) took third with King Of Comedy (IRE) fourth.
Japan, a bay son of Galileo (IRE) out of the Danehill mare Shastye (IRE), completed the about 1 ¼ miles in 2:07.77 over a course listed as good.
Victory for the Ryan Moore-ridden Japan secured a sixth success in the Juddmonte International for O'Brien, equaling the record held by Crystal Ocean's trainer Sir Michael Stoute.
O'Brien said: “I'm delighted with Japan. He's a lovely horse. Every month he gets better. Ryan was over the moon with him. From the time he started here in the Dante Stakes [at York in May] he's got better and better.
“We saw he got a mile and a half. We didn't want to bottom him today so that's why we came back to a mile and a quarter as he had the autumn coming.
“He had a very easy race in Longchamp. He's a lovely relaxed horse but has loads of class and usually those mile and a half horses that have that class will have no problem with ten furlongs.
“The first time he showed real class was when he won the Beresford Stakes (G2) at home. We rushed him to come back for the Dante. He was just ready and everything since has been a step up all the way.”
“All he's done is improve since the Dante,” said Moore. “He had to try so hard and ran all the way to the line. He's very progressive. He's got better and better and hopefully he will keep on progressing. It was a superb performance.”
Anthony Van Dyck has twice been beaten since the Derby, putting a question mark against the form of this year's Classic, but O'Brien said: “The 3-year-olds are better than anyone thinks. The King George was a bit of a disaster. It was soft ground and it didn't work. That wasn't a proper read of the 3-year-old form.
“Japan could go for the Arc with something like the Irish Champion Stakes (G1) on the way but the lads [Coolmore partners] will decide what they want to do. He will have no problem going back up in trip.”
The $1,288,461 (£1,062,500) Juddmonte International was the first European race to offer a free berth into the Breeders' Cup Classic. Former International winners to tackle the Classic include the O'Brien-trained Giant's Causeway and Declaration Of War.
O'Brien said: “The Breeders' Cup is where we all want to be at the end of the year, but the lads will decide. The Classic would be tough for a baby.”
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