Tokyo Racecourse hosts the 39th running of the Grade 1 Japan Cup on Sunday. The Japan Cup has long been a festival of international colour, with foreign raiders flying in to take on the home team and fans flocking to see the big-name racing champions, both human and equine, from around the world. Some JPY650 million is up for grabs, with JPY300 million going to the winner alone, but this year, for the first time in the race’s history, there will be no foreign-based horses in the lineup.
Sunday’s race, with no one standout, is considered to be wide open, and nominated to take on the 2,400-meter turf event are 16 Japan-based horses ranging in age from 3 to 7. They include six Grade 1 winners, among them three Grade 1 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) winners, as well as two 3-year-old fillies considered good enough to take on the boys.
Almond Eye, who captured the Japan Cup last year in record time, has passed on a second run this year and is instead aimed at Hong Kong, while 2018 runnerup Kiseki has returned from France but is likely headed for the Grade 1 Arima Kinen (The Grand Prix) at yearend. However, three others who ran last year that are back for another go are – Suave Richard, Cheval Grand and Win Tenderness.
Although there will be no international horses competing this year, there will be plenty of international flavor with the jockeys expected to ride in the race. Nearly half of the jockeys expected to ride hail from outside Japan, including Englishman Ryan Moore, Oisin Murphy from Ireland, Belgian Christophe Soumillon, Norwegian-born William Buick, and the iconic Lanfranco “Frankie” Dettori.
Sunday’s main event has been named “Japan Cup in association with LONGINES - Deep Impact Memorial,” in tribute to the late Triple Crown champion. In 2006, Deep Impact won the Japan Cup as a 4-year-old, topping a field of 11 by two lengths. Of the Japan Cup nominees this year, five were sired by Deep Impact.
The Japan Cup will be the last race – Race 11 – on the card Sunday at Tokyo Racecourse and post time is 15:40 local time.
Here’s a look at the likely popular picks.
Rey de Oro: Winner of the 2017 Japanese Derby, the King Kamehameha-sired Rey de Oro was also the runnerup in the Japan Cup that same year. Looking to bag his third Grade 1 victory, the 5-year-old’s last win was the Tenno Sho (Autumn) five starts ago. This year, his three starts, including the Dubai Sheema Classic, have seen him finish out of the money but on the board in two. Coming off a fourth-place finish in the Grade 2 Sankei Sho All Comers, the Kazuo Fujisawa-trained Rey de Oro is primed and likely to emerge as the race favorite. Back at Tokyo, where he’s won three of his four starts and finished second once (to Cheval Grand in the 2017 Japan Cup), Rey de Oro’s shot at success may be golden and even a second place would put his earnings over the JPY1 billion mark. William Buick is expected to have the ride.
Rey de Oro winning the Tenno Sho (Autumn) (G1), picture Japan Racing Association
Wagnerian: A 4-year-old by Deep Impact, the 2018 Japanese Derby winner Wagnerian has posted 3rd, 4th, 5th in his three starts this year. Returning after more than six months off, he finished a close third in the Grade 1 Osaka Hai at the end of March, then took another six months off and returned to run fourth in the Grade 2 Sapporo Kinen, then fifth despite a wide draw in the Tenno Sho (Autumn), all over 2,000 meters. Though raced primarily at 1,800-2,000 meters, his two wins over 2,400 meters and his off-the-pace racing style indicate the extra ground could help give him his second big title.
Cheval Grand: A 7-year-old son of Heart’s Cry, Cheval Grand is one of five nominees being fielded by trainer Yasuo Tomomichi. Cheval Grand won the Japan Cup in 2017 but has failed to make the winner’s circle since. He’s far from a has-been, however. All but one of his nine starts since the 2017 Japan Cup were at the top level and the last three overseas. His results have not been all bad – two seconds, two thirds and only three off the board – and two of his overseas runs had him racing under 60kg. Last year, he finished fourth here, 0.9 seconds off Almond Eye’s record time and with the same time as third-place finisher Suave Richard. Cheval Grand is running for the first time in Japan since the 2018 Arima Kinen and hasn’t raced at all since August, when he finished far off the front in the International Stakes at York. If Cheval Grand, expected to be piloted by Christophe Soumillon, can ace the Japan Cup, he’ll become the first 6-year-old to do so since Tap Dance City in 2003.
Curren Bouquetd’or: This 3-year-old daughter of Deep Impact and stablemate of Almond Eye has only missed the top three spots once in her eight career starts. Though she has yet to win a Grade 1, she has come close, missing the Grade 1 Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) by a neck and the Grade 1 Shuka Sho last out on Oct. 13 by two lengths. This will be her first major race against male competition, however. She has only run in mixed company at the lower levels, in her debut and when she broke her maiden nearly a year ago. It will also be her first race against older horses. Based at Miho, she does have ample experience at Tokyo, where she has raced five times. Until now, she has carried 54-55kg but the Japan Cup will allow her to run under only 53kg, which may give her the edge she needs.
You Can Smile: As seventh pick in his last start, the 2,000-meter Tenno Sho (Autumn), the 4-year-old King Kamehameha-sired You Can Smile just missed giving an extra boost to the return on the trifecta. It was his third bid at the top level and his second-best Grade 1 result, his best being a third in the Grade 1 Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger) over 3,000 meters. Tending to race from midfield or much further back, You Can Smile has stamina and his time of 33.6 seconds over the final 3 furlongs (the fastest of the field) in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) shows he also has late speed. The extra distance this time may be just what he needs to take home his first Grade 1.
Suave Richard: Returning from four months off, the Heart’s Cry-sired Suave Richard finished seventh in the Tenno Sho (Autumn), an improvement on his 10th place last year. Suave Richard finished third in the Japan Cup last year, and if the rotation is any indication, he could finesse his first win since the Grade 1 Osaka Hai in April 2018. This year, though he’s failed to win, he has posted two thirds in Grade 1 events, in the Dubai Sheema Classic under Joao Moreira just a half length behind Cheval Grand, and in the Takaruzuka Kinen paired with Mirco Demuro. This time he’s expected to have another ace in his saddle, the 24-year-old Oisin Murphy, just crowned this year’s British champion jockey.
Others to watch:
Look Twice is a 6-year-old son of Stay Gold fresh off a fourth-place finish in the Copa Republica Argentina (G2, 2,500m) Nov. 3 at Tokyo. He has finished in the top three in 14 of his 20 starts and, well primed for his first top-level event and expected to be partnered with Frankie Dettori, Look Twice is not one to overlook.
Danburite returned from 6 months off recovering from a fracture and ran second in the 2,400-meter Kyoto Daishoten on Oct. 6. He could make the money with the right pace as could Etario, who followed half a length behind.
Christophe Lemaire is expected to ride Copa Republica Argentina winner Muito Obrigado, who has four wins from six starts at Tokyo and is taking on only his second Grade 1 race.