Adrian Webber



Keiba Diary: Ready for the Japan Cup fanfare

Public transportation etiquette, the field for Sunday’s Japan Cup and the chances of the four European raiders all feature in this week's Keiba Diary.

It might not look like it to anyone from outside of Japan visiting this week but like any major city’s transport system, there are unwritten rules of etiquette to riding Tokyo’s bustling rail networks. 

The notoriously crowded carriages nowadays are rammed with passengers looking fixedly at screens, many occupied in handheld games; the absorption is absolute from the near-silent travellers. Until, that is, the sound of the ‘keiba fanfare’ trumpets from someone’s device and all heads swivel accusingly at the racing fan who broke the unwritten code. 

The real pre-race fanfare will be just before 3.40pm local time on Sunday and it will break the fixed concentration of race fans – many of whom will have travelled by train to the racecourse station – all absorbed in the pre-race tension of this year’s Japan Cup. 

But there will be no accusing looks in the grandstands at Fuchu, only excitement, wide-eyed admiration and expectation for what Japan’s great international-focused contest will serve up. 

Euros mean business

While the withdrawal of Ireland’s Broome is a disappointment, a field featuring four highly-tried Europeans will take on an intriguing cohort of local contenders in this year’s race. With the international stables being opened at Tokyo Racecourse this year, it makes it a lot more attractive for overseas contenders to take on the race and this year’s incomers seem to be a stronger bunch than we’ve had in recent years. 

There will be three French-trained and one German-trained runner in this year’s lineup. And even locally-based Frenchman Christophe Lemaire is switching allegiance to ride France’s Onesto now that Equinox, as we expected, will delay his re-appearance until the G1 Arima Kinen at Christmas time. 

German trainer Peter Schiergen calls the Japan Cup ‘a dream’ and his lightly-raced runner Tunnes is bidding to give Germany just a second win in the race after Lando’s win back in 1995, a year which saw the record attendance for the Japan Cup set at just over 187,000 racegoers. With restrictions still in place, this year’s maximum number is set to be around 58,000.

Jockeys shuffle

While Lemaire has opted for an overseas raider, British rider Ryan Moore will side with the fascinating Japanese runner Vela Azul, an improving five-year-old who has had just five starts in turf races and is coming off a very good win in the G2 Kyoto Daishoten in October. Trainer Kunihiko Watanabe is upbeat about the horse. 

”He has a nice big stride and looks to be well-suited by the long Tokyo home straight,” says the trainer.

Broome’s absence means that four-time Japan Cup-winning jockey, the evergreen Yutaka Take, now rides Heart’s Histoire for trainer Sakae Kunieda, and while the six-year-old horse is no Almond Eye, the combination of trainer and jockey looks worthy of note. “It’s great to have Take up,” Kunieda commented.

Strictly on the form book, the thing that often gets shredded to pieces, Shahryar and Danon Beluga look to have the best chances to give Japan its 28th win in the race. Shahryar went pretty close last year and with no out and out champion among the field, it could be the 2021 Derby winner’s turn to be in the spotlight once more. 

Danon Beluga will be ridden by Yuga Kawada, this year’s leading jockey in Japan with 134 winners and a 27% win strike rate, and the colt that finished fourth in the Derby is the one flying the flag for the domestic three-year-old generation. What’s more, Kawada has never won the Japan Cup.


Lightly-raced Japan Cup contender Danon Beluga. (Photo by JRA)

Mares seek redemption

Uberleben is looking to return to the big time, having failed to score since her 2021 Oaks victory, a win that gave the much-loved Gold Ship his first Group 1 win as a stallion. Her rider, Mirco Demuro, describes the Japan Cup as a ‘knife in the mouth’ affair, with jockeys always looking to find an advantage in the race wherever they can. Mirco last won the race back in 2008 with Screen Hero. 

Another mare looking to hark back to her glory days is the 2020 Triple Tiara heroine Daring Tact, now a five-year-old, winless since her Classic days, and in-form visitor Tom Marquand has the job this time around to try and restore the mare’s sparkling jewels to her crown. 

And, if all of that isn’t enough, enter trainer Yoshito Yahagi with his runner Unicorn Lion. There could well be a big roar if the ‘Lion’ gets to stroll off in front like his stablemate Panthalassa did in the Autumn Tenno Sho. 

Unicorn Lion was an impressive recent winner of the G3 Fukushima Kinen. (Photo by JRA)

Meanwhile, trainer Yasutoshi Ikee fields two runners in Boccherini and Weltreisende, the latter being the mount of Damian Lane who is looking to follow up on Serifos’ fine win last Sunday in the G1 Mile Championship.

The winner gets to pocket the increased prize money of a cool 400 million yen, around US$3.5 million, and with betting turnover continuing to increase these past few years, it shows there’s nothing like a pandemic for putting to use some of the dormant money in Japan.

Personal financial assets in the country were recently reported to be above 2 quadrillion yen, and with interest rates as they are, that seems like an awful lot of money stashed away in piggy banks in spare tatami rooms. Given the situation, ticket sales should be brisk for one of the biggest races on the calendar this year, and you can expect a typically brisk pace as well: the locals won’t be hanging around for the European visitors. ‘When in Tokyo’, and all that.



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