Television personality Alex Trebek livened up Thursday morning activities at Nakayama racecourse, joking during a press conference that he would spend the night teaching his Japan Cup Dirt (Jpn-I) contender Reba's Gold how to "turn right." Reba's Gold, who will carry Trebek's Creston Farm colors in Saturday's nine-furlong race, is one of 16 dirt runners seeking the winner's share of the nearly $2-million purse.
Trained by Dan Hendricks, Reba's Gold will be racing over a right-handed course for the first time when he breaks from post seven under David Flores. The towering 5-year-old son of Slew o' Gold has won seven of 28 starts, but he did not become a stakes winner until September, when he won the about nine-furlong Ralph M. Hinds Pomona Invitational Handicap over the bullring at the Los Angeles County Fair. He followed that with a third-place finish to Pleasantly Perfect in the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II), then won the Steinlen Handicap over a muddy track at Hollywood Park on Nov. 10.
Reba's Gold won his last start on the lead, but his connections recognize an abundance of speed in the Japan Cup Dirt line-up and believe their horse does not need the lead to win. "If he's not on the lead, it won't be as hard for him to remember to turn right," Trebek theorized. "All he'll have to do is follow the others."
Trebek, a relative newcomer to racing, has studied the condition of Nakayama's dirt track and said he learned that horses shouldn't be too far off the lead turning into the stretch. He also observed the runners get something of a breather down the backstretch as the course declines by more than six feet. "Then it rises another six feet in the final furlong," the host of the popular game show "Jeopardy" said. "You've got to have something left for that.
"I said to Dan if we're on the lead in the first furlong we're in trouble," Trebek said. "But we don't want to be too far back, either."
The horse who does figure to be on the lead is Abreeze, who races for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, his wife Letty, and Alvin Hayes. Abreeze has never won a stakes race, but the 7-year-old gelding by Danzig has really come around this year for McLaughlin after he bought him from Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum, who bred Abreeze and who also happens to be McLaughlin's employer. Abreeze will ship to Dubai after the Japan Cup Dirt and point for the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I), if he runs well at Nakayama.
Abreeze won three straight races this summer, then was second to Evening Attire in the Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap(gr. II). He set the pace before tiring to fifth in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) in his most recent start. Richard Migliore will ride Abreeze, who breaks from post 11 in the 16-horse Japan Cup Dirt field.
Two Japanese starters, Gold Allure and Smart Boy, are expected to push Abreeze on the front end. The favorite could be Gold Allure, a 3-year-old colt by Sunday Silence who has won two Japanese group I races on dirt this year. Another strong contender is the Timber Country 3-year-old Admire Don.
The Japan Cup Dirt field:
2-Admire Don (Japan)
3-Regent Bluff (Japan)
4-Toho Emperor (Japan)
5-Kanetsu FLeuve (Japan)
6-Red Sun (Hong Kong)
7-Reba's Gold (U.S.)
8-Gold Allure (Japan)
9-Eagle Café (Japan)
10-Double Happiness (Japan)
12-Ar Alan (Japan)
14-Hagino High Grade (Japan)
15-Smart Boy (Japan)
16-Be My Nakayama