Japan Cup preview: outsiders
Another conspicuous trend that may be in danger is the prevalence of female winners. Distaffers have crossed the wire first in six of the last seven runnings, but the 2016 female challenge doesn’t stack up as strongly as the likes of Vodka, Buena Vista, Gentildonna, or even Shonan Pandora.
Rouge Buck’s lofty reputation has outrun her accomplishments so far, and the closest she’s come to Grade 1 glory was her second to Mikki Queen in last year’s Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks). Just when she began to get her act together with back-to-back victories over males in the Epsom Cup (G3) and Mainichi Okan (G2), she failed to cut the mustard behind Maurice and Real Steel in the Tenno Sho Autumn. Granted, the daughter of Manhattan Café and Ginger Punch is eligible to bounce back, and her prior fondness for Tokyo gives the only slender reed of encouragement.
Gentildonna remains the only sophomore filly to win in Japan Cup history, and Biche hasn’t done enough to put herself in that category. By Deep Impact and out of Barancella, Biche was a fine third to Sinhalite in this summer’s Japanese Oaks before bolting up in her fall reappearance in the Shion (G3). But she flopped in the final fillies’ classic, the Shuka Sho (G1), and enters off her worst career performance. Her trajectory reads like a case of too much, too soon for the lightly raced three-year-old, who didn’t start until February.
The female trend was nearly halted last year by Last Impact, who missed by a whisker, under an inspired Moore. But he hasn’t held his form since, and now he’s lost Moore to Real Steel. Last Impact is an obvious threat if he somehow recovers his best in the nick of time.
Sounds of Earth, fifth in the 2015 Japan Cup, has come awfully close in several major events – to Toho Jackal in the 2014 Japanese St Leger and a couple of times to the aforementioned Gold Actor. His penchant for minor awards makes him tough to endorse as a win candidate.
The remaining four entrants, likewise older males, would present varying degrees of surprises.
Class climber Tosen Basil makes an audacious Grade 1 debut, but he brings a three-race winning streak, capped by a high-level allowance dubbed the October Stakes at this track and trip. The well-bred son of Harbinger is out of a half-sister to Tosen Jordan, who suffered two close losses in the 2011 and 2013 runnings.
Fame Game was a classy stayer in his heyday, but after losing the plot, he was gelded. Fifth to the aforementioned Cheval Grand in his first start since, he’s got work to do to hit a new career best.
One and Only, the 2014 Japanese Derby winner, has finished seventh in the past two Japan Cups, and shows no inclination toward a turnaround. Hit the Target has been up the track in the last three editions.
Rouge Buck photo copyright Japan Racing Association