Trainer Robert Frankel would rather be in Kentucky, sending Lido Palace out against reigning Horse of the Year Tiznow in the $400,000 Clark Handicap (gr. II) at Churchill Downs on Friday. But with Tiznow retired to stud, the Hall of Fame conditioner is content to be in Tokyo, Japan, taking a shot at the $2-million purse in the second running of the Japan Cup Dirt (Jpn-I) on Saturday. On Thursday, Lido Palace drew the 14 post in a field of 16 for the 1 5/16-mile dirt race. Post positions also were assigned for the Japan Cup (Jpn-I), a mile and one-half turf race to be run on Sunday.
"We're here for the money," Frankel said during a press conference, acknowledging that he had wanted a faceoff with Tiznow in the Clark, hoping that a second victory over the son of Cee's Tizzy would earn Lido Palace an Eclipse Award as champion older horse. He defeated Tiznow in his last start, the Woodward Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont on Sept. 8, but Frankel knows that even a victory in the Japan Cup Dirt wouldn't sway many Eclipse Award voters toward Lido Palace. However, Frankel thinks he has the early favorite for Horse of the Year in 2002. "I think there is some improvement in him," the trainer said of the Chilean-bred son of Rich Man's Gold. "Hopefully, he can turn out to be a great horse."
Lido Palace had his final serious preparation for the JC Dirt on Monday, working six furlongs "in 1:13 and change" on a training track while in quarantine, according to Frankel. He galloped easily on Thursday morning at Tokyo racecourse with regular jockey Jerry Bailey observing from trackside. "This is a very good horse," Bailey said of Lido Palace. "He would have been first or second choice in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) if he had started." Lido Palace did not race in the Breeders' Cup because his owners, John and Jerome Amerman, chose not to pay an $800,000 supplementary nomination.
Despite his fine record this year in the U.S., Lido Palace is expected to be the second choice in the wagering behind Kurofune, a 3-year-old American-bred son of French Deputy who has raced exclusively in Japan, winning his only dirt start last month by nine lengths. Japan's leading rider Yutaka Take will be aboard Kurofune, who has won five times in nine starts but has not proven himself at a distance of ground. His dirt race win, in the grade III Musashino Stakes, was at a mile. Kurofune is a full brother to Bella Bellucci, third for trainer Neil Drysdale in the recent Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I).
Another top contender from Japan is Wing Arrow, who won the inaugural running of the race last year. However, Wing Arrow has won just one of three starts in 2001.
Two other American horses are contesting the Japan Cup Dirt. Generous Rosi, second to Aptitude in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) in his last start, did not travel well, according to exercise rider Kimberly Barinowski, who accompanied the son of Generous on the long trip from the U.S. for trainer Niall O'Callaghan. "He had difficulty settling in and lost some weight," she said, though adding that the big colt had improved over the last couple of days.
The final U.S. runner is Dig for It, who is trained by Bruce Headley. Dig for It, who has yet to win a stakes race in 38 lifetime starts, will be a longshot in the Japan Cup Dirt. His best effort against top company probably came in the Pacific Classic (gr. I), when the son of Digamist finished third behind Skimming.
Europe has two representatives, Aeskulap from Germany and King of Tara from France. Both will be trying dirt for the first time. Aeskulap has just one stakes win from 14 starts for trainer Hans Blume. King of Tara, who began his career for trainer Aidan O'Brien, was purchased by Robert Ng this summer and is now under the care of Francois Doumen. Win or Lose, Doumen said he has plans to geld King of Tara after the Japan Cup in hopes of settling the horse down. "He has a tendency not to give his best," Doumen said.
The field for the Japan Cup Dirt, from the rail out: Miracle Opera, World Cleek, Nobo True, Preeminence, Mitsuaki Silence, Onward Saint, Dig for It, Wing Arrow, Kurofune, Generous Rosi, Regent Bluff, Aeskulap, King of Tara, Lido Palace, Regular Member, and Hagino High Grade.
The Japan Cup field will line up like this, from the rail out: Meisho Doto, American Boss, Cagney, T.M. Opera O, To the Victory, Jungle Pocket, Golan, Stay Gold, White Heart, Narita Top Road, Indigenous, Timboroa, With Anticipation, Paolini, and Daiwa Texas.