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Posted 2023-11-22 19:16:19  
Liberty Island to Take on World Champ Equinox in cracking Japan Cup

The Japan Cup is upon us, with Sunday, Nov. 26, marking the 43rd running of a race that now carries Japan’s biggest prize - JPY500 million to the winner.

The 2,400-meter Grade 1 over turf at Tokyo Racecourse was established in 1981, largely with the objective of bringing the world’s best horses to Japan, and with them and their teams invaluable learning experiences for Japan’s horsemen. It also made for an exciting international gala for the fans.

This year, of the two foreign raiders who did intend to join, only one remains - the G1 winner Iresine, a France-based 6-year-old gelding trained by Jean-Pierre Gauvin. Iresine is set to be ridden by Marie Velon. Indeed, in the saddles, the 2023 Japan Cup still looks very international, with six non-Japanese jockeys expected to ride.

This year, the race sees seven G1 champions among the lineup - including Equinox, a 4-year-old colt who has topped the world’s rankings since this spring and is currently on a five-race winning streak, this year’s Fillies’ Triple Crown winner Liberty Island, three-time G1 winner Titleholder, 2022 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) champ Do Deuce, Stars on Earth, who won two of last year’s fillies’ Classics, 2022 Japan Cup winner Vela Azul, and Panthalassa, with two G1 trophies from the Middle East.

Races are run to the left at Tokyo Racecourse, a venue known for its spaciousness, long homestretch, and the upward slope beginning soon after the final bend. The race starts in front of the grandstand and completes one lap around. 4-year-olds and up will carry 58kg, but 3-year-old colts and 4-year-old fillies will carry 2kg less, and three-year-old fillies will carry 54kg.

It should be noted that the Japan Cup will have the usual Grade 1 post time of 15:40 locally., but will be the 12th and final race on the Sunday card at Tokyo.

Here’s a look at the expected top picks.

 

Equinox: It was no surprise when Equinox added the Tenno Sho (Autumn) to his tally of G1 victories. He was, after all, the world’s top horse, having earned 129 points in the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings announced by IFHA (International Federation of Horseracing Authorities) in April. Equinox was barreling into the Tenno Sho (Autumn) with four G1 wins behind him, and had ample momentum to crush the field for his second win of the race. While marking his seventh win out of his nine career starts brilliantly, his record time of 1 minute, 55.2 seconds further surprised many. He is a son of seven-time G1 champion Kitasan Black, who landed the 2016 Japan Cup (and was third the following year). In 2017, Kitasan Black was also 4 years old. He too had been coming off winning the Tenno Sho (Autumn) and, though he’d failed to win his second JC, he still did make the Top 3 and went on to cap his career to win the yearend Grade 1 Arima Kinen (The Grand Prix). Christophe Lemaire, now out in front by 151 wins in the JRA Jockey Rankings, has ridden all of the colt’s races and is expected up on Sunday.

Liberty Island: This Duramente daughter pocketed her debut over 1,600 meters at Niigata and leapt to the graded level. She missed winning the 2-year-old fillies’ Grade 3 Artemis Stakes by a mere neck before she started her four-race G1 winning streak to the Japan Cup. Those wins began with the 2-year-old filly pinnacle, the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies over 1,600 meters at Hanshin, followed by the 3-year-old Classics - the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) over 1,600 meters at Hanshin again, the 2,400-meter Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) at Tokyo and, most recently, the 2,000-meter Shuka Sho at Kyoto on Oct. 15. Liberty Island now returns for her fifth top-level test, but the stakes are much higher, as the Japan Cup will be her first time to compete alongside older horses. If Liberty Island land the victory this time, she’ll become only the sixth Japan-based horse to win the Japan Cup as 3-year-old, and join company with such legends as El Condor Pasa (in 1999) and Almond Eye (in 2018).

Do Deuce: Last year, the son of Heart’s Cry (runner-up in the 2005 Japan Cup) had been doing just fine, never out of the Top 3 from his debut in 2021 to a win of the Japanese Derby in spring 2022 five starts later. From there, however, his results have been poor, except for a G2 win this spring. An Arc bid that saw him floundering in the heavy going and a scratch at Meydan have made success back home all the harder. He returned after seven months for a seventh-place finish in the Tenno Sho (Autumn), and looks ready for success in his second time over the Tokyo 2,400 meters. He was racing under Keita Tosaki for his first time, as regular rider Yutaka Take was sidelined due to an injury. Though Take was expected back for the Japan Cup at first, it was announced that he needs more time to fully recover and Tosaki is set to be up once again. Trainer Yasuo Tomomichi has fielded 16 Japan Cup runners so far and won the race in 2017 with Cheval Grand.

Titleholder: Titleholder, a 5-year-old by Duramente, had landed three G1s by mid 2022, but passed on last year’s Japan Cup since he was returning from the Arc. He was then aimed for the Arima Kinen, only to do poorly there as well. This year, it looked like he was back on his feet, starting off with win of the Grade 2 Nikkei Sho over 2,500 meters at Nakayama in late March and headed to the Tenno Sho (Spring). He was looking lucky in the race until he suddenly went lame and was pulled up. Returning at the end of September, Titleholder scored a second in the Grade 2 Sankei Sho All Comers over 2,200 meters at Nakayama and is looking fit for Sunday, with new partner William Buick expected up.

Stars on Earth: Another Japan Cup hopeful by Duramente is the 4-year-old filly Stars on Earth. She has never finished out of the Top 3 in any of her 10 career starts thus far. Stars on Earth scored two wins and one third in the fillies’ Classics last year, and the second win in those was in the Japanese Oaks over the Tokyo 2,400 meters. Her second in this year’s Grade 1 Osaka Hai over 2,000 meters at Hanshin shows she is amply competitive against male horses as well. Targeted for the Tenno Sho (Autumn), she was forced to withdraw due to a problem on her right front hoof. She hasn’t raced since May, but she’s had regular work and is ready to take on the Tokyo 2,400 meters once again.

Danon Beluga: A 4-year-old by Heart’s Cry, Danon Beluga hasn’t found the winner’s circle since his second career start, in February 2022. He was fifth here last year under Yuga Kawada, 0.6 seconds behind the winner, and has been close to the mark in his three starts since, all under Joao Moreira, who should have the ride on Sunday. He scored a second in the Grade 1 Dubai Turf over 1,800 meters at Meydan, then returned in August for a fourth in the Grade 2 Sapporo Kinen over 2,000 meters, and is now just off a fourth-place finish in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) last month.

Others to watch are:

Deep Bond, a 6-year-old by Kizuna, is still chasing his first Grade 1 win. He likes a long trip and finished second in the Tenno Sho (Spring) over 3,200 meters at Kyoto this spring. A fifth in the Takarazuka Kinen followed, then a summer rest before he returned with a third in the Kyoto Daishoten, over 2,400 meters.
The 6-year-old Vela Azul, a black beauty by Eishin Flash, was last year’s Japan Cup winner, but his four starts since (three Grade 1s) have brought him lackluster results. He has prepped with a run in the Kyoto Daishoten in early October, but it’s a high bar he’ll need to rise above to become only the second horse after Gentildonna in 2013 to notch successive wins of the Japan Cup.
The 6-year-old Lord Kanaloa-sired Panthalassa picked up another Grade 1 overseas this spring. He loves to go to the front directly from the gate, but may find it hard to find the winner’s circle over 2,400 meters. He was second in last year’s Tenno Sho (Autumn) and does seem to like the venue, but hasn’t raced since the end of March due to an injury.

Japan Racing 

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