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Japan Cup evades visitors again

Author: Nicholas Godfrey

07/12/2017
1

Yet again Europe fielded a relatively uninspiring team in the recent Japan Cup with utterly predictable results: a clean sweep for the home team, who enjoyed a 1-2-3 for the 11th year in a row. Sir Michael Stoute’s Conduit, in 2009, was the last European-trained horse even to make the frame. As I’ve said before in these pages, you can’t go to Japan armed with equine peashooters. With that in mind, a fifth place for Ballydoyle’s Idaho can be regarded as a decent outcome, especially given how appallingly Highland Reel’s brother had performed on previous long haul trips across the Atlantic.

Maybe the Lasix doesn’t agree with him. Be that as it may, there can be no doubt Japan’s foremost international prize is becoming an ever more testing assignment for any visitors given the nation’s prowess with breeding middle distance horses. Indeed, looking at results since the turn of the century, it is hard to conceive quite how easy the pickings used to be for such a lucrative prize, which went to visitors eight times in the first decade of its 37 runnings. Even if the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe remains tantalisingly beyond reach, Japanese horses have long since demonstrated their abilities on the global stage, not least in Dubai, where they’ve enjoyed regular success on World Cup night.

Last year’s winner was the filly Vivlos, who has not been pulling up any trees since her return to action in Japan, where she was beaten in Grade Two company before coming only fifth as favourite in last month’s Queen Elizabeth II Cup. Still, at least her family name is being upheld by the Japan Cup victor Cheval Grand, who is her year older half-sibling and represents the same owner (baseball star Kazuhiro Sasaki, the former Seattle Mariners pitcher) and trainer (Yasui Tomomichi). Moreover, Tomomichi is already eyeing Meydan, having nominated the Dubai Sheema Classic for Cheval Grand in the aftermath of his Tokyo triumph, which was the horse’s first success at the top level.

Cheval Grand, who beat Japanese Derby winner Rey De Oro by a length and a quarter in the Japan Cup, is set to be trained for the Arima Kinen, Nakayama’s richly endowed end of season grand prix; then comes the Sheema Classic, where his sire Heart’s Cry was successful in 2006. Vivlos, for her part, will be back to defend her title in the Dubai Turf, a race in which Japan will be looking to strike for the fourth time in five years. Looking at the wider issues, the cosmopolitan nature of the Dubai World Cup meeting remains one of its major attractions, setting it apart from newer events like the Pegasus World Cup and the Everest in Sydney.

Doubtless this weekend’s Hong Kong international races, perhaps the only other meeting on the global calendar with a similar outlook, will produce several more overseas contenders. And who knows? By the time you read this, perhaps Toast Of New York, the 2014 UAE Derby victor, will have made a successful comeback at Lingfield Park, where he was due to run on Wednesday’s card. Just imagine seeing him back at Meydan all these years after his Dubai World Cup bid was derailed by what looked like a career ending injury. Stranger things have happened. But not very often. Few additional thoughts on wind debate THE last thing I want to do is get into any sort of a spat with Mark Johnston, for any number of reasons.

Chief among them that I have enormous respect for him, we get on well and he has been extremely helpful to me professionally over the years and, more importantly, I would lose the argument. Nevertheless I can’t help thinking that, despite his laudable objective to defend the role of horsepeople, for once he is on the wrong side of the discussion concerning the declaration of wind operations in Britain. Though, as stated in last week’s column, I appreciate it may well be an administrative pain for trainers, and also that there are several other nuggets of information that in an ideal world might be even more relevant, mares in foal, sectional times, weights, that sort of thing.

Declaring wind operations, though, might involve less resources; it will soon be as obvious as letting people know when a horse has been gelded. However, two issues raised as tangentially strike me as more than a little worrying. Firstly, the suggestion that it has long been rumoured horses are being given unnecessary wind ops in the world of jump racing, a process Johnston suggested could become a problem to the Flat. Now, I must admit to never having even considered this eventuality, and frankly it is something I don’t really want to consider: will certain trainers really find it a more attractive option to give a horse an intrusive surgical procedure early in a horse’s life because they don’t fancy declaring it later on? Even allowing for serious animal welfare concerns, if money is concerned, then perhaps such unscrupulous behaviour is a real possibility.

Then we get to one of the bloodstock caveats, that compelling the declaration of wind operations will affect the commercial side of the business. Maybe so, if a certain stallion is found to have a proclivity for throwing progeny with a higher incidence of wind infirmities than another one. Bur please forgive me: I thought the idea was to breed from the best, soundest horses, not from animals with a hidden defect they might pass on? That said, there is anecdotal evidence (not the best place to start, it must be conceded; Johnston will make mincemeat of me) of some high profile stallions who are already believed to produce offspring with a propensity towards wind problems.

It hasn’t really affected their status, though maybe it should. Then again, even after nearly 30 years involved in horse racing, there are times when I feel that I remain painfully naïve!

Nicholas Godfrey,
Racing Post international editor

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