Third to Almond Eye and Kiseki in last year’s record-setting Japan Cup (G1), Suave Richard entered Sunday’s renewal as one of the top contenders in their absence. Yet he’d gotten in the habit of settling for minor awards. New rider Oisin Murphy believed cheekpieces would help, trainer Yasushi Shono wisely took the advice, and Suave Richard responded to earn his biggest career victory.
Suave Richard answered another question in the process. A rain-sodden weekend had rendered the Tokyo course yielding, an unfamiliar scenario for most of the field including Suave Richard. As it turned out, he coped beautifully and slogged up the fence to deny Curren Bouquetd’or.
There were a couple of subtexts to that climactic finish. Curren Bouquetd’or is by the recently deceased Deep Impact, in whose honor this 39th Japan Cup was contested. Just as she was looming to promote the “Deep Impact Memorial” story line, Suave Richard quashed it – ironically reminiscent of when his own sire, Heart’s Cry, handed Deep Impact his only loss on Japanese soil in the 2005 Arima Kinen.
Moreover, Murphy would have ridden Curren Bouquetd’or had he been able to get down to 117 pounds, her lighter impost as a three-year-old filly. His weight might have been the decisive factor that ended up tilting the scales in favor of the winner.
Suave Richard benefited from an astute Murphy ride in addition to his equipment advice. Settled in midpack on the rail, the 4-1 third choice traveled in the slipstream of the 9-1 Curren Bouquetd’or, who was herself within striking range of the early leaders. Lagging well off the pace was 3-1 favorite Rey de Oro, and his fans knew it wasn’t his day early as he was niggled along on the backstretch.
Meanwhile, huge longshot Daiwa Cagney was rolling on the front end. At odds of 120-1, the pacesetter showed no signs of stopping on the final turn, and some observers might have had flashbacks to Tap Dance City’s front-running romp in the yielding Japan Cup of 2003.
But order was eventually restored down the stretch. Curren Bouquetd’or tipped out to engulf Daiwa Cagney on the outside, and Suave Richard, after first moving as though to split them, ended up angling back in for clear sailing on the inside. Surging past Curren Bouquetd’or, the five-year-old stayed on dourly to hold her safe by three-quarters of a length in 2:25.9 for about 1 1/2 miles.
Wagnerian, the 3-1 second choice, was a shade unlucky in third. After keeping Suave Richard company much of the way, Wagnerian got shuffled back on the far turn. Perhaps he was following the wrong horse who didn’t give him a tow into the race as Curren Bouquetdo’r did for Suave Richard. The loss of position at that point was costly for Wagnerian, and by the time he rallied, the top two were gone.
Makahiki finished fastest of all in fourth, registering :36.3 for his final three furlongs. His tardy start that left him stone last of 16 put him in an impossible position, or else he might have gotten closer at 49-1.
Like Curren Bouquetd’or, both Wagnerian and Makahiki are by Deep Impact. If he couldn’t sire the winner, at least the late, great superstar swept the rest of the superfecta.
You Can Smile nabbed the overachieving Daiwa Cagney for fifth. Next came Etario; Muito Obrigado; Cheval Grand, the 2017 Japan Cup winner and last year’s fourth who was unsuited by the going; Look Twice; the disappointing Rey de Oro; Win Tenderness; Jinambo; Danburite; and Taisei Trail.
Murphy, Great Britain’s recently crowned champion jockey back for a winter sojourn in Japan, was celebrating his first JRA Grade 1 victory. The Irishman explained how his game plan helped execute the winning trip:
“I suppose it’s a dream come true to have won this race. I was happy with Suave Richard in his gallops and he felt brilliant. The Japan Cup is one of the most famous races around the world and it’s very hard to win, so I wasn’t confident but very hopeful.
“Suave Richard has got a lot of quality. He’s a very good mover with a lot of pace – if you’ve seen his gallops he does incredible times. As for race plans, first of all I looked at the draw and I saw that Curren Bouquetd’or was in (post) 1 – she’s a very good filly – Wagnerian was in 2, (Christophe) Lemaire was in 4 (aboard Muito Obrigado) and Yasunari Iwata was in 6 (on You Can Smile). So all the good horses, in my mind, were around me….it was about getting behind one of them, following the right one, getting the horse to relax, and then give him every chance.
“I was following Curren Bouquetd’or – she was the one traveling as well as me, turning into the straight and she had a very good trip. She is trained by my trainer, Sakae Kunieda. Maybe if I was not so fat I could do 53 kilos and rode her and might not have won the Japan Cup today!
“Suave Richard has a lot of quality and I was very happy with my positioning into the first turn. The most important thing was for him to relax. The ground was hard work today and when the ground is slow, you can’t waste energy. (In the stretch) I had the option of forcing Curren Bouquetd’or out –that would have taken a bit of energy but he’s a big enough horse to do that—but then I saw the inside open, it was easier to go the shortest way. I knew in the last 200 meters that Suave Richard would win. On this ground, horses get very tired and so I just wanted him to keep on going.
“After a big race it’s very hard to immediately understand how important it is, but sure the Japan Cup for me is one of the best races in the world and I won’t sleep for a week. It’s a big relief (to have won my first big title here in Japan) as I want to win Group 1s all over the world, and it’s…super. Japanese horses are my friends and I hope they will be my friends for many years to come. The quality in Japan is really high and the world stage will be hearing a lot more about Japanese horses.”
Among Murphy’s Japanese equine friends is Deirdre, whom he guided to a 20-1 upset of the Nassau (G1) at Glorious Goodwood this summer.
Suave Richard had not scored since the 2018 Osaka Hai (G1), the only prior JRA Grade 1 win for trainer Shono as well. Also successful in the 2017 Copa Republica Argentina (G2) and Kyodo News Service Hai (G3) and 2018 Kinko Sho (G2), Suave Richard has racked up more notable placings. The chestnut was runner-up to Rey de Oro in the 2017 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) (G1), third in last year’s Yasuda Kinen (G1) (at a metric mile trip much short of his best), and third in this season’s Sheema Classic (G1) on Dubai World Cup night and Takarazuka Kinen (G1). The latter was won by next-out Cox Plate (G1) heroine Lys Gracieux. Suave Richard was most recently seventh to Almond Eye in the Tenno Sho Autumn (G1).
Shono was hopeful of a bold show:
“I’m happy and relieved that he claimed his second Grade 1 title at last, his first since the Osaka Hai. We raced him in the same racing schedule as last year, coming off the Tenno Sho (Autumn), and since this was the autumn of his five-year-old season and he is more matured, we had high expectations as his form became better with every race. In last year’s race, the going was firm and there was the record-breaking Almond Eye.
“Even though it rained heavily and Suave Richard had never experienced this kind of turf condition before, the heavy going worked in our favor, letting him keep his own pace. I told the jockey that we wanted a good break and that the horse be relaxed not far from the pace and everything turned out perfectly. The horse was relaxed in the gate, broke well, and Oisin fought well to keep him in an ideal position. The horse responded beautifully after the last corner and Oisin bravely shot him through a tight space on the rails. I was just ecstatic after that.
“This is a huge triumph for us all because we have worked so hard for a year and a half since the Osaka Hai. I cannot say at this point what his plans are for the future – it will all depend on how he comes out of this race.”
Bred by Northern Farm and racing in the colors of NICKS Co., Suave Richard is out of the Unbridled’s Song mare Pirramimma. His second dam, Career Collection, was a multiple Grade 2-winning homebred for the Mabees of Golden Eagle Farm. She was sold, while carrying Pirramimma, for $450,000 to Katsumi Yoshida at Keeneland November in 2004. This is also the family of multiple British Group 1 hero Beldale Flutter.