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Japan Cup Preview: Star-Studded Lineup to Vie for the Nation's Biggest Racing Prize

World No 1 Equinox is one of seven Grade 1 winners set to compete in the 43rd running of the 2,400-meter Japan Cup at Tokyo Racecourse.

The Japan Cup is upon us, with Sunday, November 26, marking the 43rd running of a race that now carries Japan's biggest prize ― ¥500 million JPY ($3.3 million USD) to the winner.

The 2,400-meter Grade 1 over turf at Tokyo Racecourse was established in 1981, largely to bring the world's best horses to Japan. And with them and their teams came 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.

For Sunday's race, seven G1 champions are in the 18-horse field. They include Equinox, a 4-year-old colt who has topped the world's rankings since the spring of 2023, and is currently on a five-race winning streak. The others are 2023 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 2022'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 upward slope beginning soon after the final bend. 

The race starts in front of the grandstand and completes one lap around.  

It should be noted that the Japan Cup will have the usual Grade 1 post time of 3:40 PM JST. But it will be the 12th and final race on the Sunday card at Tokyo.

Here's a look at the expected top picks.

Tenno Sho
Equinox, ridden by Christophe Lemaire, wins the Tenno Sho (Autumn) on October 29 at Tokyo Racecourse. (ⒸSANKEI)

Equinox Enters the Japan Cup with Impressive Credentials

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 on October 29, and had ample momentum to crush the field for his second win of the race. While marking his seventh win out of 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 Japan Cup, he still did make the top 3 and went on to cap his career by winning the yearend Grade 1 Arima Kinen (The Grand Prix). 

Christophe Lemaire, now out in front with 151 wins in the JRA Jockey Rankings, has ridden all of the colt's races and is set to ride Equinox on Sunday.

Japan Cup
Liberty Island works out at the JRA Ritto Training Center on November 21 in Ritto, Shiga Prefecture. (ⒸSANKEI)

Liberty Island Riding a Four-Race Win Streak

This daughter of Duramente pocketed her debut over 1,600 meters at Niigata in July 2022 and leaped to the graded level. Liberty Island missed winning the 2-year-old fillies' Grade 3 Artemis Stakes by a mere neck before she started her four-race G1 winning streak heading into the Japan Cup. 

Those wins began with the 2-year-old filly pinnacle, the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies over 1,600 meters at Hanshin in December 2022, 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 October 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 lands the victory this time, she'll become only the sixth Japan-based horse to win the Japan Cup as a 3-year-old and join the company of such legends as El Condor Pasa (in 1999) and Almond Eye (in 2018).

Japan Cup
Do Deuce trains for the Japan Cup on November 16 in Ritto, Shiga Prefecture. (ⒸSANKEI)

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Do Deuce Looks to Return to Form

In 2022, Do Deuce, a son of Heart's Cry (runner-up in the 2005 Japan Cup) had been doing just fine. He was never out of the top 3 from his debut in 2021 to a Japanese Derby triumph in the spring of 2022 five starts later. From there, however, his results have been poor, except for a G2 win, the Kyoto Kinen, in February 2023.

In October 2022, Do Deuce floundered in the heavy going in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in France, placing 19th among 20 entrants. What's more, in May 2023, Do Deuce failed to finish the 1,800-meter Dubai Turf at Meydan Racecourse. 

After a long break from domestic competition, Do Deuce returned for a seventh-place finish in the Tenno Sho (Autumn). He was racing under Keita Tosaki for the first time, with regular rider Yutaka Take, a four-time Japan Cup champion, sidelined due to an injury. 

Do Deuce now looks ready for success in his second time over the Tokyo 2,400 meters. 

Though Take was expected back for the Japan Cup at first, it was announced that he needed more time to fully recover. As a result, 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.

Read the rest of this article about the Japan Cup as well as the Japanese horses in contention on JRA News.

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Author: JRA News

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