Though Japanese Triple Crown winner Deep Impact is sitting this one out, Sunday's 25th running of the Japan Cup (Jpn-I) boasts two Breeders' Cup winners, one winner of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe Lucien Barriere (Fr-I), a two-time Vodafone Coronation Cup (Eng-I) winner, and the two previous winners of the Japan Cup.
A field of 18 runners will vie for the $4.45-million purse, going once around the mile and a half-grass oval at Tokyo Race Course.
There were 16 horses entered in Saturday's Japan Cup Dirt (Jpn-I), a 1 5/16-mile race that offers a $2.1-million purse. Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) winner Lava Man and Meadowlands Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II) winner Tap Day represent the United States against Great Britain's Eccentric and a dozen Japanese runners.
Several horses in the two races also are eligible for a sizable bonus if they win in Japan after also finishing first or second in designated grade/group I races around the world.
Better Talk Now and King's Drama will try to end a 13-year losing streak for American horses in the Japan Cup. The last American runner to win was Golden Pheasant in 1991.
Better Talk Now, last year's John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) winner, drew the seven post and will be handled by his regular rider, Ramon Dominguez. Dominguez will be donning a new set of silks for the Japan Cup, the red and yellow colors of Fusao Sekiguchi, the flamboyant Japanese owner whose Fusaichi Pegasus
captured the Kentucky Derby in 2000. Sekiguchi, after attempting to purchase the since-retired Kitten's Joy, bought an interest in Better Talk Now from Bushwood Stables through agent Mikki Tsuge after this year's Breeders' Cup so he could have a representative in the Japan Cup. Graham Motion remains as Better Talk Now's trainer.
King's Drama, the other American runner, will start from post 15 and be ridden by Edgar Prado. Robert Frankel, who trains the 5-year-old King's Theatre gelding for Gary Tanaka, did not make the trip to Japan.
Those two horses will be longshots, considering the quality and depth of this year's field. Probable favorite is 2004 Japan Cup winner Zenno Rob Roy, a 5-year-old by Sunday Silence sent to Europe earlier this year by Japan's top trainer, Kazuo Fujisawa. Zenno Rob Roy finished second, getting caught at the wire by Electrocutionist, in the Juddmonte International Stakes (Eng-I) in August. He since ran second to Heavenly Romance in the Tenno Sho Autumn stakes Oct. 30 at Tokyo. Riding Zenno Rob Roy will be American Kent Desormeaux, who has been a frequent visitor to Japan in recent years, riding several weeks at a time with a temporary jockeys' license from the Japan Racing Association. Olivier Peslier rode Zenno Rob Roy to victory in the 2004 Japan Cup.
Zenno Rob Roy will break from post eight.
Tap Dance City, an 8-year-old by Pleasant Tap
, won the Japan Cup in front-running fashion in 2003. He'll break from the number two post under Tetsuzo Sato. Tap Dance City is coming off a ninth-place finish to Heavenly Romance in the Tenno Sho Autumn.
Bago, the 2004 Arc de Triomphe winner, will make what is probably his final racing appearance in the Japan Cup before heading off to stud at the Japan Bloodhorse Breeders' Association stallion station. The son of Nashwan finished third to Hurricane Run in this year's Arc, then was fourth to Shirocco in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Belmont Park. Alan Cooper, racing manager for the Niarchos family that bred and owns the 4-year-old colt, said Bago was compromised by the soft turf at Belmont. "We're very happy that the ground here is on the fast side of good," Cooper said Thursday morning at a press conference for the Japan Cup.
Bago breaks from post 12 under regular rider Thierry Gillet.
The two-time Coronation Cup winner is Warrsan, an Irish-bred 7-year-old by Caerleon. Fifteenth in last year's Japan Cup, the Clive Brittain-trained globe-trotting veteran has but one win in seven starts this year, but it was an important victory. The triumph occurred in the Volkswagen Grosser Preis von Baden (Ger-I) (a race Warrsan also won in 2004) -- one of the designated races in the bonus program. His owner, Saeed Manana, is eligible for an $870,000 bonus, so a victory would earn Warrsan nearly $3 million from the purse and bonus.
"We came for the money," said Brittain, who won the Japan Cup 19 years ago with Jupiter Island. "I get very enthused about that sort of bread."
Warrsan will start from the No. three post position and be ridden by Jamie Spencer.
Ouija Board, the 2004 VO5 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) winner, starts from post six under Kieren Fallon. The 4-year-old filly by Cape Cross
had her 2005 campaign interrupted by injury, but she is coming off a good second to Intercontinental in this year's Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf.
"The ground was softer than we ideally wanted," trainer Ed Dunlop said of Belmont Park's turf course on Breeders' Cup day.
Another top-class European contender is Alkaased, representing the Italian trainer-jockey tandem of Luca Cumani and Lanfranco Dettori. Winner of the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (Fr-I) in June, the 5-year-old by Kingmambo
had been pointed to the Arc de Triomphe and Breeders' Cup Turf but was forced to miss both races.
"He had a minor infection from a little cut in his leg and had to miss the Arc," Cumani said. "We ran him in the Champion Stakes (Eng-I) at a mile and a quarter, which is too short, and the ground was a little too soft for him. We didn't run in the Breeders' Cup because the ground came up too soft. So we came to Japan. It was unfortunate that we couldn't run him in the other two races, but it means he is fresher and doesn't have too many miles on the clock. I'm very happy with his training up to this race."
Alkaased starts from post 14.
In addition to Zenno Rob Roy and Tap Dance City, the 12-horse Japanese contingent includes the 5-year-old Sunday Silence mare Heavenly Romance, winner of the aforementioned Tenno Sho Autumn. She is one of seven Japanese runners in the race sired by the late Sunday Silence, the 1989 North American Horse of the Year and record-setting stallion in Japan.
Lava Man is another who is eligible for a bonus (about $870,000) by virtue of his Hollywood Gold Cup win. The son of Slew City Slew
drew post two and will be ridden by Corey Nakatani in the Japan Cup Dirt. Trainer Doug O'Neill won the Japan Cup Dirt in 2003 with Fleetstreet Dancer, like Lava Man a former claiming horse.
Lava Man breaks from post two.
Tap Day, trained by Mark Hennig and to be ridden by Eibar Coa, drew the eight post. Hennig said Tap Day thrives on a light training schedule, and the horse was bucking and kicking and on the muscle as he left the track Thursday morning following a light jog around the Tokyo Race Course dirt oval.
"He was pretty keyed up today. He was definitely feeling well," Hennig said. "But he handled the ground well and got over the racetrack super. He's a fresh horse. A lot of the American horses that have come over here in the past have not been as fresh. He's gotten very good as the year's gone on. He certainly hasn't peaked yet."
The 4-year-old by Pleasant Tap
has won three of seven starts this year and 10 of 21 lifetime but has yet to win a grade I race, his closest call coming when second to Offlee Wild in the 2005 Suburban Handicap.
Favoritism in the Japan Cup Dirt will likely fall upon either Kane Hekili or Time Paradox. Kane Hekili, a 3-year-old by the Sunday Silence stallion Fuji Kiseki, has won six of 10 lifetime starts, though he is coming off a second-place finish in his most recent race, the Musashino Stakes at a mile on dirt. He will be ridden by Japan's top jockey, Yutaka Take, and breaks from the 10 post.
Time Paradox, a 7-year-old by Brian's Time, has logged 41 starts and 15 wins. He comes off a victory in the JBC Classic Stakes at Nagoya. He will be ridden by French jockey Olivier Peslier.
For the first time, American fans will be able to bet on the Japan Cup and Japan Cup Dirt, which because of the 14-hour difference in time between Tokyo and the East Coast will be televised live Friday and Saturday nights on TVG, beginning at midnight (Eastern time zone). Post time for each race is 1:20 a.m. (Eastern).Japan Cup (Sunday)
1-My Sole Sound, jockey Masaru Honda
2-Tap Dance City, Tetsuzo Sato
3-Warrsan, Jamie Spencer
4-Admire Japan, Norihiro Yokoyama
5-Lincoln, Yutaka Take
6-Ouija Board, Kieren Fallon
7-Better Talk Now, Ramon Dominguez
8-Zenno Rob Roy, Kent Desormeaux
9-Stormy Café, Yirofumi Shii
10-Heavenly Romance, Mikio Matsunaga
11-Cosmo Bulk, Mirco Demuro
12-Bago, Thierry Gillet
13-Sunrise Pegasus, Hiroki Goto
14-Alkaased, Lanfranco Dettori
15-King's Drama, Edgar Prado
16-Heart's Cry, Christophe Lemaire
17-Suzuka Mambo, Katsumi Ando
18-Big Gold, Ryuji WadaJapan Cup Dirt (Saturday)
1-Shirokita God Run, Mirco Demuro
2-Lava Man, Corey Nakatani
3-Sunrise Bacchus, Tetsuzo Sato
4-Utopia, Katsumi Ando
5-Time Paradox, Olivier Peslier
6-Star King Man, Kent Desormeaux
7-Seeking the Dia, Norihiro Yokoyama
8-Tap Day, Eibar Coa
9-Higher Game, Katsuharu Tanaka
10-Kane Hekili, Yutaka Take
11-Saqalat, Lanfranco Dettori
12-Personal Rush, Shinji Fujita
13-Gene Crisis, Yoshitomi Shibata
14-Adjudi Mitsuo, Hiroyuki Uchida
15-Eccentric, Darryll Holland
16-Hishi Atlas, Masayoshi Ebina