Johar to Tackle International Field, Wet Track in Tokyo

If Johar becomes America's first Japan Cup (Jpn-I) winner since Golden Pheasant won the 12-furlong international turf race in 1991, he'll not only have to overcome a top-class field that is headed by Japanese star Symboli Kris S. He will, for the first time in his career, be tested on a racetrack that is anything other than fast or firm. Sunday's Japan Cup will be run under wet conditions brought on by an unusual November typhoon south of Japan. A hard, steady rain began falling on Saturday and was expected to continue throughout the weekend.

Johar, whose brilliant late run netted him a dead-heat victory with High Chaparral in the John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) last month, also will have to overcome what trainer Richard Mandella said was a minor physical setback that flared up during the Thoroughbred Corp. runner's time in the international quarantine station in Shiroi.

"He developed a skin irritation in his left front ankle and the area was inflamed," Mandella said. "I don't know if he got it from a bell boot, or what. We iced it and it went back to normal quickly."

Originally, Mandella had intended to breeze the son of Gone West at Japan race course on Thursday, but he changed his plans after learning of Johar's condition. "He didn't really need it. The press said I missed two days of training with him at the quarantine center, but that wasn't the case. I walked him for a long time yesterday," Mandella said later that day. "He had to get something out of, considering how much it took out of me."

Mandella is attempting to win his first Japan Cup in what will be his fifth start, the first coming in 1993 when eventual Horse of the Year Kotashaan finished second after jockey Kent Desormeaux misjudged the finish line inside the sixteenth pole.

Johar, with Alex Solis in the irons, breaks from the 13 post in the 18-horse Japan Cup field, which also includes American runners Denon (post 2, Corey Nakatani up), Slew Valley (post 15, Jorge Chavez), and 2002 Japan Cup runner-up Sarafan (post 16, Victor Espinoza).

Last year's Japan Cup was run at Nakayama race course while Tokyo race course was underdoing construction. The rebuilding of the Tokyo grandstand is in the first of three phases now, with completion of the project not expected for four more years. Currently there is a gaping hole between a new section of the grandstand past the finish line and a previously completed stand at the eighth pole.

A four-horse European contingent is headed by Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) winner Islington, whose trainer, Michael Stoute, won back-to-back runnings of the Japan Cup, with Singspiel (1996) and Pilsudski (1997). The other three hail from France: with fillies Tigertail and Ana Marie, and the older horse Ange Gabriel.

Symboli Kris S. finished a close third as a 3-year-old in last year's Japan Cup behind winner Falbrav and Sarafan. He was voted Japan's Horse of the Year last year, and is in top form again. French jockey Olivier Peslier has the mount.

Here's the field, from the rail out, for the 23rd Japan Cup, which has a $4.3 million purse. In addition, a bonus scheme involving the winners and second-place finishers of a dozen international races, gives Johar an opportunity to win an additional $900,000:

1-Tap Dance City, Tetsuzo Sato
2-Denon, Corey Nakatani
3-Sakura President, Yutaka Take
4-Field of Omagh, Steven King
5-Symboli Kris S., Olivier Peslier
6-Ana Marie, Christophe Lemaire
7-Tsurumaru Boy, Norihiro Yokoyama
8-Neo Universe, Mirco Demuro
9-Ange Gabriel, Thierry Jarnet
10-That's the Plenty, Katsumi Ando
11-Active Bio, Koshiro Take
12-Derby Regno, Hideaki Miyuki
13-Johar, Alex Solis
14-Islington, Kieren Fallon
15-Slew Valley, Jorge Chavez
16-Sarafan, Victor Espinoza
17-Tigertail, Thierry GIllet
18-Sunrise Pegasus, Yoshitomi Shibata