January 31, 2023

Shahryar leads home team in Japan Cup

Shahryar gets the jump on Yibir (nearest camera) in the Dubai Sheema Classic (Photo by Horsephotos.com)

Third to the retiring Contrail as a sophomore in the 2021 Japan Cup (G1), Shahryar now finds himself the captain of the home team in Sunday’s edition at Tokyo. Not that last year’s Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) (G1) winner has a comparable resume, but he’s the most accomplished of those taking on the European shippers in the about 1 1/2-mile prize.

Shahryar himself ventured abroad in the first half of the season with mixed results. By the legendary Deep Impact, who began the current streak of Japanese wins in this race in 2006, Shahryar toppled a deep cast in the Mar. 26 Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) on World Cup night. He didn’t get the right set-up in his next foray, the Prince of Wales’s (G1) at Royal Ascot, where a paceless race at 1 1/4 miles left him a vulnerable fourth. Back home in the Oct. 30 Tenno Sho Autumn (G1) at about the same trip, Shahryar wound up fourth again. Stepping back up to the distance of his marquee wins will aid his cause.

Reigning Japanese Derby winner Do Deuce would have been a prime player in the Japan Cup, but he’s on holiday after his disappointment in a soggy Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1). Considering his useful fourth to the French colt Simca Mille two back in the Prix Niel (G2) on better ground, Do Deuce gives noteworthy collateral form to the lone Japanese sophomore in the Japan Cup lineup, Danon Beluga.

That’s one reason to take a close look at lightly-raced Danon Beluga. Another reason is that Japan’s classic generation has already upstaged the older horses in a pair of majors this fall, Equinox in the Tenno Sho Autumn and Serifos in the Mile Championship (G1). Danon Beluga, who had been a promising fourth in the first two jewels of Japan’s Triple Crown, was third in that Tenno Sho. He delivered a blistering final three furlongs in :32.8 from far back. As a Heart’s Cry colt, a maturing Danon Beluga is surely capable of more. The rub is whether he can defy history to win the Japan Cup in just his sixth start.

Yet on bare form through Simca Mille, the other French colt, Onesto, looms large. The son of Frankel collared Simca Mille to prevail in the Grand Prix de Paris (G1), and he came back to run Luxembourg close in the Irish Champion (G1). Onesto was unable to duplicate that form in the Arc, but he is another eligible to rebound in quicker conditions on Sunday. With local expertise in the form of ace rider Christophe Lemaire, Onesto could be best positioned to reclaim the trophy for Europe.

French-based mare Grand Glory, an excellent fifth in the Arc, makes a return visit for the Japan Cup. Also a fast-finishing fifth at Tokyo last November, she turned the tables on Shahryar when third in the Prince of Wales’s at Royal Ascot.

Rounding out the Continental quartet is Tunnes, a half-brother to 2021 Arc stunner and this year’s runner-up, Torquator Tasso. Trained in Germany by Peter Schiergen, the sophomore has won five straight since a debut loss, capped by a 10-length conquest of the Grosser Preis von Bayern (G1). His margin was likely inflated by heavy going, and firm turf is terra incognita.

Weltreisende has loads of back class from his days chasing Contrail, including a third to the Triple Crown champion in the 2020 Japanese Derby at this course and distance. But the well-related five-year-old has raced just three times since that sophomore campaign. Successful off the 16-month layoff in the June 4 Naruo Kinen (G3), Weltreisende followed up with a non-threatening seventh in the Sankei Sho All Comers (G2). The silver lining is that in those 2022 starts, Weltreisende traded decisions with Geraldina, who went on to land the Nov. 13 Queen Elizabeth Cup (G1). Now he picks up jockey Damian Lane.

The presence of Ryan Moore in the saddle will draw more attention to upwardly mobile Vela Azul. A new horse since switching to turf, the five-year-old readily handled his first graded test in the Oct. 10 Kyoto Daishoten (G2). Unicorn Lion, up the track in that event, has since captured the Fukushima Kinen (G3) for Breeders’ Cup-winning trainer Yoshito Yahagi.

Boccherini, a full brother to champion Lovely Day who was third in the 2015 Japan Cup, has likewise enjoyed a breakout campaign. Since just missing to Titleholder in the Nikkei Sho (G2), Boccherini scored his biggest win in the May 29 Meguro Kinen (G2) at Tokyo. He didn’t resurface until his second in the Kyoto Daishoten, so he could fare better for the tightener. But post 18 doesn’t help.

Daring Tact, the 2020 Fillies’ Triple Crown winner, was third in that fall’s Japan Cup. Her current form isn’t as strong, with sixths in the All Comers and Queen Elizabeth in her last pair. But trainer Haruki Sugiyama points out that the draw was against her in both races. Three back, Daring Tact was third in the Takarazuka Kinen (G1), so she’s still capable of holding her own at this level. New pilot Tom Marquand will try to provide another fresh variable.

Uberleben is winless since the 2021 Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) (G1), but she was a good sixth here last year, and she prepped (with an eighth) in that usually key Tenno Sho Autumn. Karate was sixth in the same prep, although the multiple Grade 3 winner has a class question here.

Two are coming off the Copa Republica Argentina (G2), runner-up Heart’s Histoire and sixth T O Royal, a long-distance specialist who was third in the Tenno Sho Spring (G1). Shadow Diva would do well to repeat her seventh from the 2021 Japan Cup. Trust Kenshin and Ridge Man are out of their depth.

Carded as the 12th race, the Japan Cup is scheduled to go off at 1:40 a.m. (ET) late Saturday night/early Sunday morning, and you can watch and wager at TwinSpires.com.