The 34th running of the G1 Japan Cup (2400m) will take place this Sunday at Tokyo Racecourse, and what an incredible lineup it will be. Eighteen runners will go to post on Sunday and of the current 16 nominees from Japan - one will miss out - 10 have won G1 races while all of the three foreign raiders have pocketed G1s too.
Gentildonna is back for a go at making history with a third Japan Cup win in a row. The super mare has won six G1 events and comes in off a second in the G1 Tenno Sho Autumn following a four-month layoff. This time, Gentildonna is not only at her favourite venue but at her favourite distance too, having notched all three of her previous 2400m wins at Tokyo. In the saddle will be Ryan Moore, who piloted the now five-year-old mare to her Japan Cup win last year, as well as her win in the G1 Dubai Sheema Classic (2410m) at Meydan this past March.
Winning the Tenno Sho Autumn was Spielberg, who notched his first G1 victory over 2000m. Though not at the top level other than last outing, Spielberg has had tremendous success at Tokyo, winning six of his 10 starts at the venue as well as running second once and third twice.
Harp Star and Just A Way both run for the first time since their appearance in the G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp. The three-year-old filly Harp Star topped the Japan trio in the Arc this year with her sixth place - an impressive effort in the end considering how far back she was turning in. As in the Arc, she’ll benefit from a weight allowance here, running under the lightest weight of 117lbs.
Just A Way still holds on to his top world ranking gained after his stupendous win in Dubai earlier in the year. He has also proven successful over the Tokyo turf, with two G1 wins, albeit at short of the Japan Cup distance.
Isla Bonita, this year’s G1 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) winner and third in the Tenno Sho Autumn, will face G1 Japanese Derby winner One And Only, who was forced wide in the G1 Kikuka Sho but has every chance back at Tokyo. Three-year-olds have won the race six times in its history.
Always to be wary of are horses fielded by the highly successful Katsuhiko Sumii and this time he has three – Lachesis, fresh off a win in the G1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup, Epiphaneia, last year’s Kikuka Sho champion, and last year’s Japan Cup runner-up Denim and Ruby.
Fenomeno, winner of the G1 Tenno Sho Spring, and Tosen Jordan, last year’s Japan Cup third-place finisher, can also not be overlooked on Sunday.
And, despite recent domination by Japan-based horses in the Japan Cup, this year could see the tables turned. Canada’s Up With The Birds may not quite be up to the heady level of this year’s field, but Trading Leather from Ireland, first in the 2013 G1 Irish Derby and second in the 2013 G1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes could be. So could Germany’s Ivanhowe, this year’s winner of the G1 Grosser Preis von Baden, who is coming off a win in the G1 Grosser Preis von Bayern.