Japan Cup preview: Erupt aims to topple home team

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November 26th, 2016

A three-pronged European squad, led by recent Canadian International (G1) winner Erupt, aims to end the home team’s decade-long dominance of the Japan Cup (G1) at Tokyo on Sunday.

Although sixth in last year’s edition, Erupt was beaten only a couple of lengths in a bunched-up finish, despite meeting with trouble entering the stretch. Trainer Francis-Henri Graffard believes that the Niarchos Family homebred has strengthened up now as a four-year-old – a logical enough development for Dubawi’s progeny. And that physical progression might be enough to bridge the gap, especially in an open-looking race without a clear Japanese stand-out.

Erupt was already high-class at three, winning the 2015 Grand Prix de Paris (G1) and finishing fifth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1). Circumstances didn’t go his way this campaign until his venture to Woodbine for the October 16 Canadian International, when he prospered going left-handed on a firm course. Connections hope that similar conditions obtain in the Japan Cup. He’s already dodged one potential obstacle by landing a plum draw in post 8, and jockey Pierre-Charles Boudot, fresh off setting a new European record for most Flat wins in a season, should be able to carve out a decent trip. Now he’s just got to hope it doesn’t rain too much.

Europe’s other two hopes, the German-based pair of Nightflower and Iquitos, have traded decisions at home, and neither appears quite up to winning an international race of this caliber. Interestingly, both placed second to the now-retired Protectionist over the summer, Nightflower in the Grosser Preis von Berlin (G1) and Iquitos in the Grosser Hansa-Preis (G2).

Iquitos became a star only at Baden-Baden, courtesy of his surprise in the Grosser Preis der Badischen Wirtschaft (G2) in May and a milder upset of the Grosser Preis von Baden (G1) September 4. Elsewhere, he’s been business as usual, and even the chance of rain-softened ground doesn’t enhance his profile. The four-year-old filly Nightflower has competed at a higher standard for longer, a point reiterated by her repeat victory in Cologne’s Preis von Europa (G1), where she gained revenge on Iquitos by leaving him back in fifth. But the Peter Schiergen pupil was only 11th in last year’s Japan Cup, and even if she can do better this time, there’s no compelling reason to forecast a radical improvement.

If Europe’s futility since the British-based Alkaased triumphed in 2005 is to end now, it will probably come courtesy of Erupt.

The home defense features several rock-solid types, well capable of getting the job done, but the absence of Japan’s bona fide stars gives at least some pause. While Horse of the Year Maurice wasn’t going to attempt the about 1 1/2-mile trip, it would have been terrific to have leading three-year-olds Satono Diamond (who’s awaiting the Arima Kinen [G1]), Makahiki (the Arc flop), and Sinhalite (who unfortunately suffered a career-ending tendon injury) take on older champion Duramente (also retired due to injury). Same goes for reigning Japan Cup winner Shonan Pandora, likewise injured and off to a breeding career.

In their absence, it’s too tempting to see those still standing as fighting a proxy war for their competing formlines. That’s not fair to the leading domestic players in the Japan Cup, but they’ll have the chance to make the case for themselves on Sunday.  

Continued in Part 2 on the leading Japanese contenders

Erupt photo courtesy of WEG/Michael Burns Photography