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Champions Cup Preview: Lemon Pop, Seraphic Call Among the Top Entrants

In the last 10 years, only two race favorites have won the Champions Cup, with the last one being T O Keynes in 2021 at Chukyo Racecourse.

After a thrilling Japan Cup on November 26, top-level Japan Racing Association action switches to Chukyo Racecourse, just outside the city of Nagoya, for the Grade 1 Champions Cup on Sunday, December 3. 

It is one of just two JRA Grade 1 races run on dirt and one of only two Grade 1 races run at the Chukyo track.

Formerly known as the Japan Cup Dirt, the Grade 1 Champions Cup has had an interesting history so far, with the distance of the race, as well as the venues for it, often changing since it was first run at Tokyo in 2000 over 2,100 meters. It was also run at Hanshin from 2008 to 2013. But it has been run at the left-handed Chukyo track over 1,800 meters since 2014, which is also when it got its current name.

There have been 19 nominations for the race, which is for 3-year-olds and up, and there will be a maximum number of 16 runners. 

It is the final leg of the Japan Autumn International Series of races, and therefore open to horses from overseas. There have been 29 in total over the years. 

The only foreign winner of the race was Fleetstreet Dancer in 2003, and the last runner from abroad was America's Pavel in 2018. Despite there being originally 18 nominations from outside of Japan (all from America), there will be no overseas runners in 2023.

Background on the Champions Cup

Some of the races leading into Sunday's big race have been held at National Association of Racing tracks. For example, the Teio Sho and the JBC Classic at Oi, and the Mile Championship Nambu Hai at Morioka. In the last 10 years, just two favorites have won the Champions Cup, with the last one being T O Keynes in 2021. 

Five-year-olds have won four times in that same period, with Jun Light Bolt the last one to do so in 2022. The last 3-year-old winner was Chrysoberyl in 2019. And the colt also holds the record time for the race at Chukyo, winning in 1 minute, 48.5 seconds that year. 

The 2023 winner's check is ¥120 million JPY (roughly $816,000 USD) out of a total purse of ¥259 million JPY ($1.76 million USD).

For those following the action, the 24th Champions Cup will be Race 11 on the Sunday card at Chukyo, with a post time of 3:30 PM. Final declarations and barrier draws are now available on the JRA website.

Here is a look at some of the runners expected to take on the race.

Ryusei Sakai guides Lemon Pop to victory in the February Stakes on February 19 at Tokyo Racecourse. (ⒸSANKEI)

Lemon Pop Brings Stellar Credentials to Champions Cup

Lemon Pop, an American-bred progeny of Lemon Drop Kid, has won nine of his 13 career starts. He was back to his best last time when winning the Mile Championship Nambu Hai at Morioka on October 9. This occurred after his worst-ever result two starts ago in the Grade 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen at Meydan in March, where he finished 10th. 

"After the Nambu Hai, he had close to a month's break at the farm, and on returning to the stable he's fine," a member of Lemon Pop's training staff said.

"He's better for taking it easy after the trip to Dubai. It'll be the first time for him to run in a race where he has to take in four corners, and 1,800 meters might just be his limit. But I think he has enough talent and ability to overcome these things."

Champions Cup
Seraphic Call, piloted by Mirco Demuro, triumphs in the Grade 3 Miyako Stakes on November 5 at Kyoto Racecourse. (ⒸSANKEI)

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Seraphic Call Riding a Five-Race Win Streak

A 3-year-old colt by Henny Hughes, Seraphic Call is looking like he is something special, with five straight wins and no losses on the board. He picked up his first graded win last time in the Grade 3 Miyako Stakes over 1,800 meters at Kyoto on November 5. 

Trainer Ryo Terashima commented, "It was a strong win last time in the Miyako Stakes. He slipped slightly at the start, and from the position he found himself in, he managed to get into a good rhythm and eventually won. Ideally, he would have raced in midfield, but things worked out well. I might worry about him if it's wet. But the long home straight at Chukyo looks as if it will suit him." 

Mirco Demuro is expected to ride Seraphic Call, and as well as being a two-time winner of the race, he's also looking for his first JRA Grade 1 win since the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies with Circle of Life in December 2021.

Champions Cup
Crown Pride exercises at the JRA Ritto Training Center on November 29 in Ritto, Shiga Prefecture. (ⒸSANKEI)

Training Staff Has High Hopes for Crown Pride

Crown Pride, a 4-year-old son of Reach the Crown, has become quite a world traveler. His latest foray overseas saw him pull off an easy win in the Grade 3 Korea Cup in Seoul on September 10. He also finished second in 2022's Champions Cup. So everything points to him having a good chance in the big race again this Sunday. 

An assistant trainer for Koichi Shintani said, "On his return from Korea, he was a bit tired, so we decided to skip the JBC and wait for him to fully recover, and then this became his next target race. He really won well in Korea and coped with the heat at the time, and now it's cooler, he's in good shape again."

Read the rest of this article about the Champions Cup and the Japanese horses in contention on JRA News.

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Author: JRA News

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