Sunday’s Japan Cup (2400m) at Tokyo Racecourse this week represents a racing first in Japan. In fact, it’s most likely a racing first, period.
It’s not that it’s the 40th running of the Japan Cup and it’s not that it will be the first run in its four decade history with only a handful of people in the stands.
It’s the fact that the 2400m turf competition has gathered what may be the hottest field of heavyweights in its history, a field of 15 that features an unheard-of three Japanese Triple Crown champions.
It’s headed by wonder mare Almond Eye. She swept Japan’s Fillies’ Triple Crown in 2018 and last year captured the Japan Cup in record time. She’s fresh off a win in the G1 Tenno Sho Autumn (2000m), her record-setting eighth Group 1 win on turf both at home and abroad. And, sadly, as the Lord Kanaloa mare is pegged for retirement, Sunday’s Japan Cup will be her final race.
This year’s Triple Crown winner Contrail returns from his 25 October trio capper in the G1 Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger), a grueling 3000m contest that saw him become only the third colt to win the coveted three unbeaten – the G1 Satsuki Sho (2000m), the G1 Tokyo Yushun (2400m) and the Kikuka Sho.
And then we have Daring Tact, who claimed the Fillies’ Triple Crown – the G1 Oka Sho (1600m), the G1 Yushun Himba (2400m) and the G1 Shuka Sho (2000m) – unbeaten this year and returns first-up following her Shuka Sho triumph at Kyoto Racecourse on 18 October.
Almond Eye has the experience, both at the distance and the venue. She is six from eight at Tokyo. She has the top speed of the three, but also the tightest schedule, having just raced in the Tenno Sho Autumn on 1 November.
Contrail was given a run for his money in the Kikuka Sho but is said to be well rested. Having run only against his peers, he will compete against older horses for the first time.
Daring Tact is the same, having competed only amid her age group. But, she will have the assigned-weight advantage running under only 117lb.
As all looks well for the Triple Crown trio as they are given their finishing touches, the search is on for which horse can manage an upset or fill out the trio.
This year has at least attracted one brave enough to accept a ticket to the invitational – Way To Paris, seven-year-old grey trained by Chantilly-based Italian handler Andrea Marcialis. Way To Paris captured the G1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (2400m) in June and comes off a ninth in the G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (2400m) on 4 October. He has been highly competitive this year with four top two efforts from seven runs, including one win over 2400m and one over 2500m and is expected to find the fast track of Tokyo to his liking.
But, as is the norm over the past 24 editions of the Japan Cup, it’s the home team that is expected to field the winner.
Glory Vase, winner of last year’s G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m) is fresh with only two starts this year, and is a strong hopeful, although he has no prior experience at Tokyo, but has been successful racing to the left. He returns following a win in the G2 Kyoto Daishoten (2400m) on 11 October.
Then there’s the Deep Impact daughter Curren Bouquetd’or, stablemate to Almond Eye. The four-year-old bay was runner-up in last year’s Japan Cup and finished second in her next two runs, most recently in the G2 Sankei Sho All Comers (2200m) at Nakayama on 27 September.
The four-year-old World Premiere, who has yet to finish out of the top three in his career, and You Can Smile, fifth in last year’s Japan Cup, will both be value with the big three dominating the market.