Japanese Horse of the Year Deep Impact makes the final start of his career in Sunday's Arima Kinen (Jpn-I), the nation's biggest race and the only one Deep Impact has lost on his home soil.
The 2,500-meter event is contested at Nakayama racecourse just outside of Tokyo. Heart's Cry, the only Japanese-bred horse to defeat Deep Impact, won last year's Arima Kinen but will not return Sunday after being retired with a throat problem following a disappointing effort in the Japan Cup (Jpn-I) last month.
The 4-year-old champion Deep Impact, a son of Sunday Silence, has had his ups and downs in 2006, including a French disqualification coming after he had dominated Japanese racing for the first half of the year. He showed he was back to his best in the Japan Cup with a powerful win, coming from last at the 800-meter mark. He swept past horses such as twice European Horse of the Year Ouija Board, and top Japanese 3-year-old Dream Passport. There is no doubt that he will finish his racing career with this amazing statistic -- he has started odds-on in every single race.
Deep Impact improved his record to 11 wins from 13 starts in the Japan Cup. After winning his first three starts of 2006, Deep Impact was shipped to France by trainer Yasuo Ikee, where he finished third as the betting favorite in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe Lucien Barriere (Fr-I) but was subsequently disqualified when testing positive for a prohibited medication to treat a respiratory problem.
Among his challengers Sunday is Cosmo Bulk, a galloper who won the $3 Million Singapore Airlines International Cup in May. His domestic career so far has seen him win one JRA grade III and two JRA grade II races. He has had placings in two of the most prestigious JRA grade I races -- the Satsuki Sho (Two Thousand Guineas) and the 2004 Japan Cup. He ran a close up fourth in last year's Arima Kinen behind Heart's Cry, Deep Impact and Lincoln.
Dream Passport is yet to miss a place in 12 outings, the last six in grade I and II races. He finished second in the Satsuki Sho, third in the Japanese Derby (Jpn-I), when he was the only horse making any real ground at the finish, and second in the Kikuka Sho (Jpn-I). His run to finish second behind Deep Impact in the Japan Cup last start will likely have him challenging for second favoritism.
Daiwa Major is in great form. The son of Sunday Silence has won his last three starts, the last two at grade I level the Tenno Sho (Autumn) and the Mile Championship. He was dominant in both wins, and he likes the Nakayama course, where he won the 2004 Satsuki Sho over 2,000 meters. The key to Daiwa Major figures to be how he tackles the distance for the first time.
Meisho Samson won the first two legs of the 3-year-old classic Triple Crown in Japan this year, the Satsuki Sho and the Japanese Derby. He was beaten into fourth last start in the 3,000-meter Kikuka Sho, the last leg of the Triple Crown. He finished sixth against the older horses last start in the Japan Cup.
After putting in the run of the race in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) behind Daiwa Major, Admire Moon finished on strongly to just go down against one of the best horses in the world, Pride, in the Hong Kong Cup (HK-I) earlier this month.
Delta Blues and Pop Rock finished first and second in the Melbourne Cup (Aus-I) in Australia in early November and they have been aimed at this race since then. This does look much harder here but Delta Blues has performed well at Nakayama, and he is definitely going much better than he was in the Spring. Pop Rock is an up and coming horse who is probably better suited than Delta Blues back over the shorter journey.