Sarafan, America's only hope to break a 10-year drought in the Japan Cup (Jpn-I), drew the number eight post position in a field of 16 international runners set to go postward Sunday in the world's richest turf race, moved to Nakayama racecourse and dropped from 12 to 11 furlongs in distance because of construction of a new grandstand at Tokyo racecourse. The Japan Cup carries a purse of nearly $4 million.
A 5-year-old Kentucky-bred gelding by Lear Fan, Sarafan carried Gary Tanaka's colors to victory earlier this year in the Eddie Read Handicap (gr. IT) at Del Mar, defeating Beat Hollow, who turned the tables on him in the Arlington Million (gr. IT) in his next start. Regular rider Corey Nakatani will be aboard Sarafan.
Japanese owner and breeder Fusao Sekiguchi recently purchased a minority interest in Sarafan, who is trained by Neil Drysdale. Drysdale trained Sekiguchi's Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Fusaichi Pegasus.
Sarafan does not figure to be among the top choices in the Japan Cup. The likely favorite will be Symboli Kris S, a Kentucky-bred 3-year-old colt by the late Kris S trained by Japan's top conditioner, Kazuo Fujisawa, and ridden by Olivier Peslier of France. Peslier, who frequently rides in Japan during the winter, won last year's Japan Cup aboard Jungle Pocket.
Top Japanese rider Yutaka Take takes over the reins aboard Jungle Pocket, a 4-year-old Tony Bin colt who has not raced since April because of a leg injury. Jungle Pocket breaks from the 10 post, while Symboli Kris S drew the number seven post.
The European delegation of five is led by Golan, sixth in the Japan Cup last year and coming off a sixth-place finish behind High Chaparral in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Arlington Park. The 4-year-old by Spectrum scored an emotional victory earlier this year in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes (Eng-I), run within days of the death of his owner, Lord Weinstock. Trained by Michael Stoute, Golan will start from post three and be ridden by Kieran Fallon.
Two European-based 3-year-old fillies will try to become the first of their age and sex to win the Japan Cup. Ellie Lellouche trains Bright Sky for owner Alec Wildenstein, whose family's silks were carried to a second-place finish by North American Horse of the Year All Along during her 3-year-old season in 1982. Bright Sky comes off a powerful win in the Prix de L'Opera-Casino Barriere (Fr-I) at Longchamp Oct. 6, and her connections opted against running the daughter of Wolfhound three weeks later in the Breeders' Cup. Bright Sky break from post 12 under Thierry Thulliez.
The second-place finisher in the Prix d'le Opera, Irresistible Jewel, will try to reverse that decision in the Japan Cup, and her connections are hoping firmer ground in Japan will be to her liking. The daughter of Danehill, bred and owned by Walter Haefner's Moyglare Stud and trained by Dermot Weld, won the Ribblesdale Stakes (Eng-II) at Ascot earlier this year. She starts from post four.
The undulating, right-hand-turning turf course is expected to be firm on Sunday, although there is a chance of rain in the forecast for the weekend.
The field for the Japan Cup:
1-Falbrav (from Italy)
2-Indigenous (Hong Kong)
4-Irresistible Jewel (Ireland)
5-American Boss (Japan)
6-Agnes Flight (Japan)
7-Symboli Kris S (Japan)
9-No Reason (Japan)
10-Jungle Pocket (Japan)
11-T.M. Ocean (Japan)
12-Bright Sky (France)
13-Narita Top Road (Japan)
14-Storming Home (England)
16-Air Shakur (Japan)