Japan Cup preview: leading Japanese contenders

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November 26th, 2016

Continued from Part 1 on the Europeans...

Real Steel has spent much of his career chasing Duramente, and most recently he finished a bang-up second to Maurice in the major prep, the Tenno Sho Autumn (G1). Without those two heavy hitters, Real Steel looms as an eminent contender, especially with Ryan Moore back aboard. In their only prior teaming up, Moore lifted him to his biggest career victory in the Dubai Turf (G1) on World Cup night (pictured). The one sticking point is the distance. Although the Deep Impact colt placed at and beyond this trip – including a close second to the gutsy Kitasan Black in last year’s Kikuka Sho (Japanese St Leger) (G1) – all of his wins have come at about nine furlongs. Even trainer Yoshito Yahagi has said 1 1/4 miles is his optimum, and he’s relying on the Moore magic to get him home. Post 16 requires some too.

Kitasan Black, another beaten by Duramente in a pair of 2015 classics, is as tough and game a front-runner as you’ll find. Off the board only once in 12 career starts, that lone blemish came at this course and distance in the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby (G1). That’s such an aberration as to be discounted. By Deep Impact’s full brother Black Tide, Kitasan Black has fought like a lion when just yielding in last December’s Arima Kinen and the June 26 Takarazuka Kinen (G1), and when holding on grimly in the two-mile Tenno Sho Spring (G1). Jockey Yutaka Take employed stalk-and-pounce tactics in his prep score in the Kyoto Daishoten (G2), a versatility that could come in handy here. That said, his natural cruising speed still makes him the probable pacesetter from post 1.

Gold Actor, also likely to sit handy, earned his signature win over Sounds of Earth and Kitasan Black in the 2015 Arima Kinen. Back over the same about 1 9/16-mile distance at Nakayama in March, Gold Actor and Sounds of Earth again ran a close one-two. You could begin to think Gold Actor’s a Nakayama specialist after he captured his tune-up there, the September 25 Sankei Sho All Comers (G2). But he won twice at Tokyo at this time last season, notably in the Copa Republica Argentina (G2) on yielding ground. The one hesitation is that Gold Actor’s more of a grinder, and typically you need first-class acceleration in this race. But if the rainy forecast proves true, the son of Screen Hero will appreciate the Japan Cup turning into a slog more than most.

Two other Copa Republica Argentina winners will line up, newly minted titleholder Cheval Grand and 2014 hero Fame Game, who was fifth when trying to regain his title on November 6. Cheval Grand has plenty of appeal as a beautifully bred colt in career-best form. After his convincing breakthrough in the March 20 Hanshin Daishoten (G2), the blaze-faced chestnut was a slightly unlucky third to Kitasan Black in the Tenno Sho Spring. He was still feeling the effects of that hard race when disappointing in the Takarazuka Kinen, but he resumed with a cozy score in the Copa Republica Argentina. Aside from facing his most searching class test, the other quibble is being marooned on the far outside post 17. Regular rider Yuichi Fukunaga will have a stark choice aboard the midpack type: either go forward or drop back farther behind. I’d vote for the former, since we know the Heart’s Cry colt stays, and the pace may be ordinary.

The Japan Cup has been a tough spot for three-year-old colts in recent years. Other than Rose Kingdom (2010), who only sneaked in via the controversial disqualification of Buena Vista, the last was Jungle Pocket in 2001.

Dee Majesty, by the ubiquitous Deep Impact, may be good enough to buck the trend. This year’s classic crop is regarded as exceptionally deep, and Dee Majesty beat the big two – Makahiki and Satono Diamond – in the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) (G1) in stakes-record time (pictured). Favored to repeat the feat in the Japanese Derby, Dee Majesty conceded first run to them and couldn’t peg them back in third. Although he scored in a St Leger prep, his weight still ballooned to 482 kilograms ahead of the final classic, and he ran like it when fourth to Satono Diamond and Rainbow Line last time. But Dee Majesty had another excuse for his Japanese St Leger loss, reportedly banging his hoof in the race. With his leading contemporaries out of the way here, Dee Majesty may strike a blow for his generation under the crafty veteran Masayoshi Ebina.

Rainbow Line, the only other sophomore colt in the line-up, gets an eye-catching jockey switch to Christophe Lemaire. Although only eighth to the “big three” in the Japanese Derby, he’s taken a leap forward in the interim. Rainbow Line tackled older horses in the Sapporo Kinen (G2), where he rattled late for third and almost caught Maurice for second, and followed up with his runner-up effort in the Japanese St Leger. It’s not clear if he’s ready to win a race of this stature, but the son of Stay Gold is progressing fast.

Continued in Part 3 on the outsiders...

Real Steel photo courtesy of Dubai Racing Club/Neville Hopwood

Dee Majesty photo copyright Japan Racing Association