Over the past 33 years, the Japan Cup has enjoyed the participation of 66 runners from North America, 132 from Europe, 25 from Oceania and five from Asia since its inaugural running as JRA's first international G1 event in 1981. This year's 34th running will feature three foreign entrants, including last year's Irish Derby (G1, 2,400m) victor and King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (G1, 2,400m) runner-up Trading Leather (IRE, C4, by Teofilo) from Ireland. One of his foreign compatriots will be Ivanhowe (GER, C4, by Soldier Hollow), winner of the G1 Grosser Preis von Bayern (G1, 2,400m) and Grosser Preis von Baden (G1, 2,400m). The other foreign entrant will be Up With the Birds (CAN, C4, by Stormy Atlantic) from Canada, last season's Sovereign Award Horse of the Year by virtue of claiming the last leg of Canada's Triple Crown, the Breeders' Stakes (2,400m), and the Jamaica Handicap (G1, 1,800m).
Japanese Lineup Taking Shape
The opposing Japanese field for this year is also beginning to fill out. Runners from the Tenno Sho (Autumn) (G1, 2,000m) and the Copa Republica Argentina (G2, 2,500m) held on November 2 and 9, respectively, have announced their participation upon earning their tickets to run.
Adding to the excitement of the star-studded competition is the inclusion of Harp Star (JPN, F3, by Deep Impact) and Just a Way (JPN, H5, by Heart's Cry), who finished sixth and eighth, respectively, in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1, 2,400m). Gold Ship (JPN, H5, by Stay Gold), who was 14th in the French G1, will make the Arima Kinen (G1, 2,500m) his comeback start.
Harp Star, who raced far back in the Arc's 20-horse field, made up much ground with a terrific though belated charge up the homestretch to close the gap behind repeat winner Treve (FR, F4, by Motivator) to under five lengths. She was second despite losing a shoe in her last start over 2,400 meters at Tokyo in the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks, G1, 2,400m). Her quick, explosive late charge is recognized to be world-class, but she lacks versatility and her style hinges on the race's development.
Just a Way attempted to stretch out his distance in his last start, the 2,400-meter Arc, but the effort was unsuccessful. Despite running well in hand early while saving ground, he was far behind the pace. He was unable to reproduce the eye-catching spurt that he demonstrated with his overwhelming victory the Dubai Duty Free (G1, 1,800m), which had lifted his rating to 130lb. His best distance, as it seems, is 1,600 to 2,000 meters, but a change of surface at Tokyo Racecourse might make a difference.
The Tenno Sho (Autumn), the most important step-race for gauging Japan Cup performances, was won by Spielberg (JPN, H5, by Deep Impact), who gave a terrific charge along the outside to mow down rivals for his first G1 victory. A full brother of Tosen Ra (JPN, H6), a G1 winner in the 2013 Mile Championship, Spielberg proved to be a quality runner himself early in his three-year-old campaign with close finishes behind the three prominent G1 winners of his generation—two-time Tenno Sho (Spring) victor Fenomeno, multiple G1 winner Gold Ship, and 2012 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby, G1, 2,400m) winner Deep Brillante (JPN, by Deep Impact). He made an impressive comeback by registering three consecutive wins after missing more than a year of action due to an injury after the Tokyo Yushun. Later, coming off a third place in the Mainichi Okan (G2, 1,800m) this fall, he started in the Tenno Sho three weeks later and won the title in dominant fashion. He has proved well suited to Tokyo Racecourse, the site of all six of his career victories, but at distances of 1,800 to 2,000 meters, which leaves some question about his ability to handle the Japan Cup's extra distance.
Gentildonna (JPN, M5, by Deep Impact), who is coming off her second runner-up effort in the Tenno Sho, will make her third consecutive Japan Cup bid. She has followed the same program as last year, beginning with the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1, 2,410m), then on to the Takarazuka Kinen (G1, 2,200m) and Tenno Sho (Autumn) before attempting to defend her Japan Cup title. While claiming her first overseas G1 in her second Dubai Sheema Classic challenge in March, her defeat to ninth place in the Takarazuka Kinen under similar track conditions as last year, when she was third, suggested that she might have passed her peak. But her performance in the Tenno Sho, where she maintained a good position after a quick start from an inside stall and threatened the leader while running second along the rails on the stretch, brushed off any notions of a decline. Her connections' high hopes for the Japan Cup after coming off a good performance in her second fall start seem achievable.
Isla Bonita (JPN, C3, by Fuji Kiseki), the only three-year-old in the Tenno Sho (Autumn), was sent to post race-favorite after his victory in the St. Lite Kinen (G2, 2,200m), but he finished third. The season's Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas, G1, 2,000m) victor quickly made ground from stall 15 and remained well positioned, but despite taking command at one point mid-stretch, he was unable to sustain his lead in the final strides. His runner-up performance in the Tokyo Yushun earlier in the season suggests that 2,400 meters should not be a problem, but his efficiency in the extra distance against top-class G1-caliber runners will be a key to his Japan Cup.
Love Is Booshet (JPN, H5, by Manhattan Cafe) gave an impressive effort in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) to finish fourth, despite being sent to post a lightly regarded 16th choice, proving his fourth-place in the Arima Kinen last year was no fluke. He claimed his first grade-race victory in the Hakodate Kinen (G3, 2,000m) in July, following a runner-up effort in the Meguro Kinen (G2, 2,500m) at Tokyo Racecourse. He would have been an intriguing addition to the Japan Cup, but his connections have opted to start him in the Arima Kinen instead.
Hit the Target (JPN, H6, by King Kamehameha) finished fifth in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) after wasting much ground in an attempt to angle out for a belated charge up the lane, but his performance made a good impression prior to his second Japan Cup start.
Epiphaneia (JPN, C4, by Symboli Kris S), the 2013 Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger, G1, 3,000m) victor, missed his break in his first start in six months, but he was less than 0.2 seconds from the winner in sixth place. He hopes to improve at the 2,400-meter Tokyo Racecourse, where he finished second in the Tokyo Yushun over the same distance last year.
Meanwhile, Denim and Ruby (JPN, F4, by Deep Impact), who was to run in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1, 2,200m) at Kyoto Racecourse following her seventh-place finish in the Tenno Sho (Autumn), instead will run in the Japan Cup, where it is hoped she will make use of her lasting charge over the long stretch.
Back-to-back Tenno Sho (Spring) winner Fenomeno (JPN, H5, by Stay Gold) was an uncharacteristic 14th in the fall version of the Tenno Sho. Perhaps the result was due to the slow pace, but he was evidently excited about his first start in six months, which might have taken too much out of him. Nevertheless, his connections still intend to start him in the Japan Cup, provided that health or soundness is not an issue.
Tosen Jordan (JPN, H8, by Jungle Pocket), the 2013 Japan Cup third-place finisher, was defeated in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) to 17th, sixth lengths behind the winner. But last year he also was a disappointing 11th in the Tenno Sho before redeeming himself in the Japan Cup, so the eight-year-old cannot be overlooked.
Among the three-year-old group coming off the last leg of the Triple Crown, the Kikuka Sho, Toho Jackal (JPN, C3, by Special Week) scored an eye-popping victory by renewing the race record at 3 min. 1.0 seconds, but he will be given the rest of the season off. Runner-up Sounds of Earth (JPN, C3, by Neo Universe) is scheduled to challenge his seniors in the Arima Kinen. Tokyo Yushun winner One and Only (JPN, C3, by Heart's Cry), who disappointed to ninth despite being sent to post race favorite, could have opted for the Arima Kinen, but will run in the Japan Cup in hopes of a Tokyo Yushun-like performance over the same course and distance, although this time against senior G1 winners.
Fame Game (JPN, C4, by Heart's Cry) claimed this year's Copa Republica Argentina on November 9. Traveling in the back of the mid-pack, the Heart's Cry colt angled out for an attack at the stretch and closed rapidly to pin down the leaders before drawing clear to a 2-1/2-length victory. It was his third grade-race title, the second one being the Diamond stakes (G2, 3,400m) in February. His connections have decided to pass up the Japan Cup for the Arima Kinen as his next start.
Hokko Brave (JPN, H6, by Marvelous Sunday), who finished 12th in the 2013 Japan Cup, his first G1 challenge, kicked off this season with a runner-up effort in the Nikkei Sho (G2, 2,500m) and then finished a close neck-and-nose third in the Tenno Sho (Spring). In his fall debut, the Copa Republica Argentina, however, he failed to find his rhythm and disappointed to 14th, dropping him from consideration for the coming Japan Cup. His schedule has been altered towards the Stayers Stakes (G2, 3,600m) on December 6.
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