Looking to defend her title in the Japan Cup (Jpn-I) Nov. 24 at Tokyo Racecourse, the filly Gentildonna drew post 7 in a 17-horse field.
Japan's reigning Horse of the Year is looking for her first victory of 2013 in the 2,400-meter (about 1 1/2-mile) grass test and will have internationally acclaimed British jockey Ryan Moore aboard. Gentildonna won Japan's filly Triple Crown in 2012 and nosed out the great Orfevre in last year's Japan Cup to climax the season.
The 4-year-old daughter of Deep Impact began the current season finishing second in the Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-I) in the spring and running third in her return to Japan in the Takarazuka Kinen (Jpn-I) at 2,200 meters in June. In her only start since, she was second in her Japan Cup tuneup, the Tenno Sho (Autumn) over 2,000 meters at Tokyo Oct. 27.
"She's done everything she needed to this week and she's eating well," said Sei Ishizaka, who trains the bay for owner Sunday Racing. "She doesn't look too lean at all and I think she's maintained good condition. She's won over the Tokyo 2,400 twice so I have no worries there.
"This year, we've got some powerful new players in the lineup, but she put up a great fight last year amid strong competition. I think if we can get a run like we did last year, we'll be in for a good race. Recently, we've had a string of losses but she has run well."
Japan has won the past seven editions of its signature international event, and it holds an overwhelming hand once again this year with only three lesser European opponents in the field and none from America.
Most of those taking a stand against Gentildonna will side with Gold Ship, a two-time Japanese classic winner at 3 last year who earned his fourth grade I title in the Takurazuka Kinen June 23. The inconsistent gray son of Stay Gold has had one start since, finishing fifth as a heavy favorite in the Kyoto Diashoten (Jpn-II) at the Japan Cup distance Oct. 6. He made an early move in that race but was unable to withstand the late runners.
A lack of pace in this year's Japan Cup, however, suggests that better timing on the part of jockey Hiroyuki Uchida could make Japan's 2012 champion 3-year-old colt difficult to catch this time. The tactical Gold Ship starts from gate 13.
"Gold Ship is totally switched on now, totally ready," said Naosuke Sugai, who conditions the nine-time winner from 13 starts for owner Elichi Kobayashi. "He's the kind of horse that no matter what the distance, no matter what the course, he can always switch gears, so all I'm hoping is that he and Hiroyuki Uchida will be able to work well together. There are children who send Gold Ship letters saying how much they like him. His popularity extends beyond generations. I'm hoping he'll go out there and perform in such a way that people like them will be moved, that he'll give them the stuff of dreams."
Six-year-old Eishin Flash has finished in the money in all four of his starts this year, winning the Mainichi Okan (Jpn-II) Oct. 6 at Tokyo before running third in the Tenno Sho (Autumn). Known for his quick acceleration, he could be a big factor in what will likely be a race without much pace. Mirco Demuro has the call from post 4.
"The horse has maintained a high level as far as what he's capable of and I believe he's in good shape," trainer Hideaki Fujiwara said. "After his run in the Tenno Sho, we also had an invitation from Hong Kong, but after discussing it with the owner (Katsuhiko Hirai), we decided we wanted to let the fans in Japan see him race one more time.
"We've gotten him over any fatigue he had from the Tenno Sho and to this point nicely. Every year, I've run him in the Japan Cup and we haven't gotten the results we wanted but he is a Japanese Derby (Jpn-I) winner, over the same distance, the same course, and I've held on to the dream of winning all along."
Other Japanese notables include Hit the Target, who upset Gold Ship in the Kyoto Daishoten and draws the services of legendary jockey Yutaka Take; fast-improving French-bred Uncoiled; respected stayer Admire Rakti; Tokyo specialist Lelouch, a son of 2004 Japan Cup winner Zenno Rob Roy; and the Deep Impact colt Spielberg, who returned from a leg problem to win his past two starts over allowance company.
The international hopes rest with three-time Pattison Canadian International (Can-IT) victor Joshua Tree, 2011 Emirates Melbourne Cup (Aus-I) and multiple group I winner Dunaden, and the former steeplechase competitor Simenon, most recently a strong closing fourth in the Nov. 6 Melbourne Cup at Flemington.
Joshua Tree will start on the far outside in the big field.
$5.7 Million Japan Cup (Jpn-I), 2,400 Meters (About 1 1/2) Miles, 3 & Up
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer
1. Verxina (F) (JPN), Yusanari Iwata, Yasuo Tomomichi
2. Nakayama Knight (JPN), Yoshitomi Shibata, Yoshitaka Ninomiy
3. Uncoiled (FR), Hiroki Goto, Yoshito Yahagi
4. Eishin Flash (JPN), Mirco Demuro, Hideaki Fujiwara
5. Tosen Jordan (JPN), William Buick, Yasutoshi Ikee.
6. Admire Ratki (JPN), Craig Williams, Tomoyuki Umeda
7. Gentildonna (F) (JPN), Ryan Moore, Sei Ishizaka
8. Fire (JPN), Norihiro Yokoyama, Masaru Honda
9. Denim and Ruby (F) (JPN), Suguru Hamanaka, Katsuhiko Sumii
10. Dunaden (FR), James Spencer, Mikel Delzangles
11. Lelouch (JPN), Yuichi Fukunaga, Kazuo Fujisawa
12. Hokko Brave (JPN), Kosei Miura, Yasutoshi Matsunaga
13. Gold Ship (JPN), Hiroyuki Uchida, Naosuke Sugai
14. Simenon (IRE), Richard Hughes, William Mullins
15. Smart Gear (JPN), Keita Tosaki, Masaru Sayama
16. Hit the Target (JPN), Yutaka Take, Keijii Kato
17. Joshua Tree (IRE), John Murtagh, Edward Dunlop