Sunday sees the 36th running of Japan’s richest horse race live on Sky Racing 1 with Ryan Moore adding further international interest to a contest likely to be dominated once again by local runners.
Iquitos and Nightflower represent Germany while Erupt, who was sixth in this race last year, once again heads over from France. With that previous good run here and coming off the back of a success in the Grade 1 Canadian International at Woodbine, Erupt looks the main danger to end a period of local dominance. Previously this had been a happy hunting ground for overseas runners with Luca Cumani’s Alkaased winning in 2005 while between 1986 and 1998 there were only three locally trained winners. Since then though the standard of Japanese racing has continued to rise significantly and last year’s winner Shonan Pandora made it ten local winners in a row. They look to hold the key again and the odds are that this rich prize will be staying at home once more.
There is however further international interest with globe-trotting superstar jockey Ryan Moore heading over to be reunited with Real Steel, a combination which proved a winning one in the Group 1 Dubai Turf at Meydan back in March. The son of Deep Impact has finished runner-up five times in 11 starts and it is with this in mind that presumably trainer Yoshito Yahagi has reverted back to booking Moore. The four-year-old is arguably better at 1800 metres but while this extra 600 metres is probably further than ideal he did finish second over a greater distance in last year’s Japanese St. Leger behind Kitasan Black. The latter also heads here in great form having won the Grade 2 Kyoto Daishoten last month off the back of a Grade 1 win in the Tenno Sho (Spring) and a third in the Grade 1 Takarazuka Kinen. There’s little between the pair but slight preference is with Real Steel who comes off the back of an excellent second behind Japan’s superstar Maurice (partnered by Moore) in the Grade 1 Tenno Sho (Autumn) last start.
Other challenges will come from Gold Actor, Dee Majesty and Cheval Grand. Gold Actor boasts solid track form having twice previously won here, once over the distance and the other in the 2015 Grade 2 Copa Republica Argentina. The five-year-old has had a light year building up to this with his latest success coming at Grade 2 level at Nakayama. Dee Majesty gets a weight advantage as he takes on older horses for the first time. Success in the Japanese 2000 Guineas was followed with a third place over this trip in the Japanese Derby and a fourth in Japanese St. Leger and while this will be a step up conditions look ideal.
Cheval Grand looks the other leading hope and is closely matched with Kitasan Black who he finished third behind in the Tenno Sho (Spring). The son of Heart’s Cry heads here off a career best run when winning this year’s Grade 2 Copa Republica Argentina and looks to be an improving horse who should also be competitive in what looks a very strong renewal.