The host country may have the upper hand in both of the Japan Racing Association's grade I international fixtures, the Japan Cup and Japan Cup Dirt, at Tokyo Racecourse on Sunday.
Kazuo Fujisawa-trained Zenno Rob Roy, a Sunday Silence 4-year-old colt coming off a victory in the Tenno Sho, is the likely favorite over world travelers Warrsan and Powerscourt in the $4.3 million Japan Cup at 1 1/2 miles on turf. Japan's perennial leading trainer will have the riding services of French jockey Olivier Peslier, who rides in Japan each winter.
While Zenno Rob Roy drew a favorable post, number nine, Powerscourt and Warrsan were unlucky in the draw, getting the two outside stalls in the 16-horse field. Jamie Spencer rides Powerscourt for trainer Aidan O'Brien, while Clive Brittain named Kieren Fallon aboard Warsaan.
The favorite for the 1 3/16-mile Japan Cup Dirt is expected to be Admire Don, a son of Timber Country who will be trying to avenge a nose defeat at the hands of longshot American runner Fleet Street Dancer in the 2003 running. Katsumi Ando, who many criticized for being overconfident in last year's race, remains Admire Don's jockey.
Second choice in the Japan Cup Dirt may be Total Impact, whose Hollywood Gold Cup win gave him his first grade I triumph since coming from his native Chile in late 2001 after being that country's 2-year-old male champion. Trainer Laura de Seroux, who will remain in Southern California for the Hollywood Turf Festival rather than travel to Japan, has named Mike Smith to ride the only American-based runner in either international race.
Total Impact was ridden by Craig Perret in his previous start, the Fayette Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland Oct. 30, because regular rider Smith expected to have some mounts that day in the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. Smith wound up without any Breeders' Cup mounts, but Total Impact's connections kept their commitment to Perret. Total Impact lost by a nose to Midway Road after failing to change leads down the stretch.
Assistant trainer Jeff Ford said on Thursday the 6-year-old son of Stuka has "held his weight well. He knows why he's here, and I only wish the race were tomorrow. He's doing super, and has run well wherever he's gone: Keeneland, Del Mar, Santa Anita, Hollywood Park or Dubai.
Exercise rider Brian Eide was aboard Total Impact for a five-furlong breeze on Wednesday and a light jog Thursday. "He's trained very strong," said Eide. "He's very alert and ready to get down to business. He's a strong horse who can power his way through on the deep racetrack. He's powerful behind."
The purse for the Japan Cup Dirt is $2.2 million, but an incentive scheme that applies to both races would pay an additional $900,000 to Total Impact's owners because he previously won the Gold Cup. He's the only qualifier for an incentive.
The fields for both races, from the rail out:
Japan Cup Dirt: Nike a Delight, Koolinger, Snark Rayearth, Gene Crisis, Utopia, Eagle Café, Omikron, Shirokita God Run, Hard Crystal, Admire Don, Total Impact, Vortex, Top of World, Time Paradox, Homan Bell Win, Lohengrin.
Japan Cup: Policy Maker, Lune d'Or, Heart's Cry, Narita Century, Phoenix Reach, Magnaten, Delta Blues, Er Nova, Zenno Rob Roy, Cosmo Bulk, Hishi Miracle, Higher Game, Tosen Dandy, Hookipa Wave, Powerscourt, Warssan.