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The Arc winner faces more than a day of air travel to Tokyo but with the mare maintaining her form and the JRA making it a worthwhile venture, connections are happy to take the challenge
Sir Mark Prescott has Alpinista progressing nicely towards the Japan Cup at the end of the month but the master of Heath House Stables is under no illusions about the task his star mare faces in travelling to the other side of the globe.
The likely fast ground does not faze Prescott; the difficult mission of facing top quality opposition on their own turf is all part of the game; and there is no doubt about the mare’s ability to compete, her class has been tested and proven. But as any travelling horseman knows, the journey across continents can be the make-or-break element.
“She hasn’t missed a beat since France but the journey to Tokyo is the big factor,” Prescott told Asian Racing Report. “Obviously, the race is difficult enough but you’ve got no chance if you don’t travel well.
“She leaves on the 17th (November) and with all the complexities, it’s 28 hours door-to-door, so it’s not easy. She has to go to Frankfurt before flying on to Japan and I think she arrives on the 19th.”
Alpinista beat the best mustering of 2400-metre horses in Europe at Longchamp last month when she won the G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe under Luke Morris. That success, her sixth Group 1 win on the bounce, was achieved on muscle-sapping wet going but the high likelihood is that owner-breeder Kirsten Rausing’s grey mare will encounter quick conditions at Fuchu on November 27.
“Before she ran in the Arc, all of us thought she wanted firm ground,” Prescott continued. “It may transpire that she won’t go a yard on it but we all thought that’s what she wanted and that possibly her best performance was at Saint-Cloud in the summer, which, despite the official description, was very quick; and Salisbury, where she won her first Listed race, was unbelievably quick and she loved it.
“And she wants a fast gallop, which we were lucky enough to get in the Arc,” he added, knowing that speed on the front end will be pretty much guaranteed in the Japan Cup.
Prescott has always pointed to Alpinista’s good temperament and is hopeful the five-year-old will maintain her good manners on the day when faced with the long pre-race procedure before a large Tokyo crowd.
“She and Mr O’Brien’s horse Luxembourg were the best behaved before the Arc and it gets to be a bit of a bun fight in there: anyone can wander through, and everyone was wandering through, and it was very congested in the paddock. She and Luxembourg were the two that were completely unfazed,” he said.
“Now, it may be different in Japan, it may not, she’s never been a problem at that stage so far; her great quality has been that she’s straightforward.”
But home-based runners have dominated the JRA’s great international feature going back to the late 1990s. The last foreign raider to plunder the cup was Alkaased 17 years ago and he is one of only two overseas-trained winners this century, the other being Falbrav in 2002.
Others have tried and failed but, by and large, runners from Europe – certainly in the past decade – have been below the standard required to succeed.
Alpinista is something of a throwback to those early 2000s and 1990s when Europe’s top runners at the distance did have the Japan Cup on their agenda; horses like Lando, Singspiel and Pilsudski – all successful – and the brilliant Arc winner Montjeu, who along with high-calibre Europeans High-Rise, Borgia, Fruits Of Love and Tiger Hill finished behind Japan’s Special Week in the 1999 Cup.
That was also the year Prescott took another grey mare to Japan, Alpinista’s brilliant aunt, Alborada. But things did not go to plan for the Heath House team on that occasion as the two-time Champion Stakes heroine picked up an injury after her arrival in Japan and did not race.
Alpinista with trainer Sir Mark Prescott after winning the Prix de l' Arc de Triomphe. (Photo by Horsephotos/Getty Images)
Yet Prescott believes the JRA now has the incentives in place to once again attract some of the world’s finest to take on its own stars, not least a brand new quarantine centre at Tokyo racecourse.
Then there is the Japan Cup winner’s purse of US$2.7 million, with prize money down to tenth; but the JRA has also attached bonuses for any horse winning one of 24 major Group 1 races around the world leading into the Japan Cup. Alpinista qualifies for those bonuses: victory in Tokyo would net her connections about $5.7 million.
“I think (the bonus) was a great factor in deciding to go and it will continue to be, and the fact that they’re generously paying so much towards our trip. And there is the new quarantine centre, that must be a great help because when Alborada went there, albeit that was 20-odd years ago, it was far from ideal,” Prescott noted.
“I hope the JRA feel that with Alpinista coming and whatever else might be as well, that they do feel it’s worth it.”
Other Europeans in the mix to make the journey this time are Sunday’s impressive G1 Grosser Allianz-Preis von Bayern winner Tunnes, G1 Grand Prix de Paris victor Onesto, G2 Prix Niel winner Simca Mille and last year’s Japan Cup fifth Grand Glory.
As for Alpinista’s training, she has pleased Prescott in the weeks since the Arc.
“She went better on Friday and did a little bit quicker again on Monday,” the trainer said. “She’s absolutely fine at the moment.”
If Alpinista maintains her form through late November and lands connections that big bonus then perhaps more internationally-minded horsemen will themselves be fine again about making the Japan Cup a regular end-of-term destination for Europe’s best.
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