Have it Orf with Japanese ace
Our horse by horse guide to Sunday's Japan Cup at Tokyo where Orfevre is expected to be hard to beat.
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Hitoshi Nakamura's five-year-old only has one high-profile win to his name, but that was in the Tenno Sho (Spring) in April where he slammed Tosen Jordan by four lengths, with a below-par Orfevre back in 11th. Subsequently well-held behind the true Orfevre at Hanshin, and wasn't threatening on his comeback earlier this month, so has something to prove at present.
Has been a credit to connections over the years, however Roger Varian's flag-bearer is yet to win at the very top level from 10 attempts. Unlikely that the return to this longer trip will eke out any improvement in the six-year-old and hard to see him featuring in the first half-dozen, although a dawdling pace could see him fare better than expected.
At the age of eight, Noriyuki Hori's is the oldest in the field but he ran a fine race to be third behind Buena Vista in this race last season, having been fourth the year before. Has won at the very top level over two miles in the past and needs a strong pace to be winning a race like this over this trip, something which doesn't look overly likely.
Runner-up in both the Japanese Derby (by a nose) and the Tenno Sho (Autumn), Hirofumi Toda's three-year-old is likely to be popular with punters once again, having started as a favourite on three of his last four starts. Step back up in trip no problem, especially given his record at the track, and looks a major player with further improvement to come.
Didn't get the rub of the green when a fast-finishing fifth in the Melbourne Cup earlier this month, but career has been on a real upward curve since joining Luca Cumani in April. Stays well, so will need something to go off at a decent pace in-front, but has plenty of talent and could take this jump in grade in his stride.
Another who got going too late at Melbourne last time out, Ed Dunlop's six-year-old similar to fellow European runners Mount Athos and Jakkalberry, in that they would appreciate a strong pace to chase. Gallant third in the Hong Kong Vase this time last year, so has plenty of form in the southern hemisphere, but needs everything to drop right here.
Yoshiyuki Arakawa's five-year-old comes into this race on the back of a surprise victory in the Kyoto Daishoten, his first attempt over this mile and a half trip. Moves up in grade accordingly which is tough in itself, and interesting that the progeny of his sire Grass Wonder are often precocious at a young age rather than getting better with time (see Screen Hero and Earnestly); needs to improve again.
Broke a long winless run of 31 months and 12 races when pipping Fenomeno last month under Mirco Demuro, and interesting that connections plump for another European jockey in the form of Christophe Lemaire. Won the Japanese Derby over this course and distance as a youngster, but didn't fare too well in last-year's renewal of this race. Could be a different proposition this time around with confidence high.
Oken Bruce Lee
Hidetaka Otanashi's seven-year-old was well-beaten in this race last year (Sent off at 45/1) and the son of Jungle Pocket hasn't tasted victory since October 2009. Decent enough comeback at Kyoto last month but was subsequently well-held at this course and doesn't look good enough to feature.
The mount of Mirco Demuro, and a horse that has a little to prove as he steps up to this trip for the first time. Wasn't beaten far in the Tenno Sho behind Eishin Flash last time, and has a very good record at this track to call on, however Noriyuki Hori's five-year-old needs to prove this distance will suit (other Dance In The Dark progeny like That's The Plenty and Melbourne Cup winner Delta Blues stayed well). Mind you, there isn't much pace on and a turn of foot may be what is required.
Six-year-old who has done well since joining Marco Botti from Italy and ran a blinder to be third in the Melbourne Cup earlier this month (sent off at 80/1). True to say that stamina has been his forte, so like a few in the line-up he will need a strong pace to be seen at his best, but jockey expects the track to play to his strengths.
Developed a good partnership with Yutaka Take as a three-year-old, however he has gone a bit off the boil since and didn't show much for Take when they were reunited in June. Mind you that was over a mile and this trip is his optimum, having won this race back in 2010. Promising comeback at Kyoto last month suggested that he should better last season's ninth-placed finish. Interesting contender if anywhere near his best.
Much better strike-rate than some of his rivals, and made a mockery of his opponents in the QE II Cup at Sha Tin in April. Then a fine second to Orfevre (under this jockey) in June, before a decent reappearance third in the Tenno Sho (Autumn). Has a bit of work to do with Orfevre, and the step back up in trip is not necessarily a huge plus, however Katsuhiko Sumii's stable star commands plenty of respect.
Gutsy filly who battled back to ruin the Japanese party in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe last month, pipping Orfevre by a neck. That was run on very testing ground, and she has something to prove on quicker ground here, given that she is 0/2 on good going. Made most of the running that day, and whilst her stall (14) has supplied plenty of winners, it does mean that she might have to work hard to get to the front.
Yasunari Iwata's daughter of the great Deep Impact (won this race in 2006) is on a very lucrative upwards curve, having won five of her six starts to date including the Grade One Shuka Sho at Kyoto last month. However this will be her first start against both males and older rivals so there are some question marks over Sei Ishizaka's Fillies' Triple Crown winner, despite receiving 4lbs from her elders. Same connections run Orfevre.
Ran a fine race under Craig Williams to be second to Buena Vista last year (despite a wide draw) and then chased home Orfevre at Nakayama in the Arima Kinen. However he put in the worst performance of his career on his reappearance at Tokyo and needs to put that aberration behind him. Former winner of the Tenno Sho (Autumn) for Yasutoshi Ikee.
Showed his quirky side at Longchamp last month, pulling up after hitting the front, and eventually succumbing to Solemia. Might also be worth noting that was his first start on heavy ground, but will relish the quicker conditions here and could well be a class above his rivals. Unbeaten in two starts at the track over a mile or more and his wide draw isn't a disaster considering his style of racing (often held up). The one to beat.
Yasutoshi Ikee must have been tearing his hair out when ORFEVRE pulled himself up in France last time but Japanese jockey Kenichi Ikezoe is unlikely to make the same mistake as Christophe Soumillon did. He has partnered the son of Stay Gold to seven of his eight wins and although history is against the pair in stall 17 (no winner from as high as 17 in the Japan Cup's 32-year history), only bad luck or a complete lack of pace can scupper his bid.
Sceptics may point out that he has twice been beaten at odds of 30/100 or shorter, however those races were over two miles and he can stamp his class on this race over his optimum trip.
The fellow Sunday Racing-owned Gentildonna is a filly on the crest of a wave and set a new record when winning the Japanese Oaks over this course and distance, the middle leg of the Fillies' Triple Crown. She is a big danger but this is a real test against seasoned horses.
Of the British challenge, Jakkalberry has the best of the recent form and might also be the most adaptable in regards to tactics and the pace of the race, despite having an abundance of stamina, with this quicker ground quite a big question mark surrounding Arc heroine Solemia.