The Japan Cup is one of the most prestigious horse races in the world, and one of the richest too with over £2.5m in prize money going to the winner.
The race is established as a truly international event, following winners from America, Australia, the UK and Europe since the first running in 1981.
That said, victory has been out of reach for any visitors in recent years with Japan-based horses dominating the winner’s circle since 2002 and no European-based winner since Alkaseed’s success in 1995.
There are no British or Irish raiders this year, with Arc winner Alpinista ruled out after a training setback a fortnight ago, but the French head into the race with a trio of runners and they are complemented by the German-based Tunnes, who races out of the Peter Schiergen stable.
The Japan Cup has helped forge the reputations of horses such as Singspiel and Pilsudski while greats of Japanese racing such as Deep Impact, Buena Vista and Vodka have all lifted the prestigious prize.
Here's our guide to all the contenders with full coverage of the race on Luck On Sunday this weekend, live on Racing TV.
Age: 6yo. Trainer: Yasutoshi Ikee. Draw: 18. General Odds: 25-1.
Consistent performer who has been dealt the worst draw in stall 18 but is two from two at the track, including when winning the Group 2 Meguro Kinen here on his penultimate start. He is one of two runners for trainer, Yasutoshi Ikee, best known for his handling of the popular Orfevre, and he has reported the six-year-old to be in top form despite having it all to do from his wide berth.
Age: 3yo. Trainer: Noriyuki Hori. Draw: 14. General Odds: 11/4.
One of the leading Japanese contenders, the progressive Danon Beluga has won two of his five starts to date but posted a career-best when finishing a narrow third in the Group 1 Tenno Sho (Autumn) over ten furlongs at this track last time out. He was strong at the finish that day and steps back up to a mile-and-a-half here having finished fourth in the Japanese Derby on his penultimate outing. He is sure to be cherry ripe for this assignment.
Age: 5yo. Trainer: Haruki Sugiyama. Draw: 8. General Odds: 16/1.
The mount of ‘Tokyo Tom' Marquand. This classy mare won the Japanese fillies' Triple Crown back in 2020 and would finish that campaign with a highly creditable third behind Almond Eye and Contrail in the 2020 running of this race. She has failed to hit those heights since then - likely due to an injury which kept her off-track for over a year - and she remains winless in six subsequent outings. Has a bit to prove now.
Age: 6yo. Trainer: Gianluca Bietolini. Draw: 5. General Odds: 16/1.
Watch the replay of last year's race again as Grand Glory finishes fifth
Grand Glory finished a staying-on fifth in this race last year and bids to improve on that effort 12 months on. Two victories in the spring have been followed by solid efforts in Group One company, with the Olympic Glory mare edging out the re-opposing Shahryar for third in a tactical renewal Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot back in June. She then stayed on into the minor places when fifth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe last month and has reasonable claims for picking up more place prize money here from stall 5.
Age: 6yo. Trainer: Sakae Kunieda. Draw: 10. General Odds: 50/1.
One of the lower rated horses in this year’s renewal. The six-year-old was second in a Group 2 over course-and-distance last time out but was a well-beaten 16th of 18 behind Titleholder in the Tenno Sho (Spring) only his only try in Group 1 company to date and is likely to be outclassed once again.
Age: 6yo. Trainer: Yasuyuki Tsujino. Draw: 11. General Odds: 33/1.
Five of Karate’s seven wins to date have come over a mile, with the other two coming over ten furlongs, including a Group 3 success at Niigata in September. It will be the six-year-old’s first attempt at this trip and it is hard to see the son of To The Glory having the necessary class or stamina to trouble the principals.
Age: 3yo. Trainer: Fabrice Chappet. Draw: 2. General Odds: 8/1.
There’s plenty to like about Onesto’s claims here as he bids to end Europe’s barren spell in the race and he will have the experienced hands of Christophe Lemaire – winning rider in two of the last four renewals of this race – guiding him throughout. The Frankel colt boasts solid top-level form following victory in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp, as well as a battling second behind Luxembourg on his penultimate outing. He was unable to get competitive in last month’s Arc but should be better suited to firmer underfoot conditions here.
Age: 9yo. Trainer: Koki Chiba. Draw: 16. General Odds: 150/1.
Making up the numbers is Ridge Man, winless on the flat since 2018, and whose last winning effort actually came over jumps, breezing to success by a wide-margin in a maiden hurdle at Fukishima last November. Five subsequent low-key efforts mean he holds no discernible chance here.
Age: 6yo. Trainer: Makoto Saito. Draw: 12. General Odds: 150/1.
Shadow Diva showed initial promise as a three-year-old but has consistently fallen short at the highest level for handler Makoto Saito, with the Heart’s Cry mare 0/8 in Group 1 company to date. She was successful here at Tokyo in a Group 2 over nine furlongs in October last year but has little chance in this field with stamina questions beside her name.
Age: 4yo. Trainer: Hideaki Fujiwara. Draw: 15. General Odds: 11/4.
The ante-post favourite Shahryar could’ve hope for a better draw in stall 15 but has the necessary class to overcome that under the guidance of Christian Demuro. This son of Deep Impact was third in this race last year but looks to have improved with another year on his back, with the colt returning in March to win the Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan in gritty style and denying the top-class Yibir in a thrilling finish. He has failed to replicate that form in two subsequent efforts over 10 furlongs but looks to be at his best over a mile-and-a-half and appears primed for a bold showing following his fifth in the Autumn Tenno Sho last month.
Age: 3yo. Trainer: Stephane Wattel. Draw: 1. General Odds: 20/1.
The wonderfully consistent Simca Mille has never been out of the first two in seven outings this year, winning four of his last five starts, including the Group 2 Prix Niel at Longchamp last time out. Despite being a recognised Arc trial, the decision was swiftly made to skip the French showpiece with sights firmly locked onto this race instead. Preparations have reportedly gone smoothly since then and the Tamayuz colt has landed the plum draw in stall 1 with quicker ground likely to suit.
T O Royal
Age: 4yo. Trainer: Inao Okada. Draw: 13. General Odds: 50/1.
Talented stayer who put together a sequence of victories last year and continued that form when winning on seasonal reappearance here at Tokyo in the Group 3 Diamond Stakes over 17 furlongs back in February. A career-best followed when third to Titleholder in the Group 1 Spring Tenno Sho, albeit by a distant eight lengths, but he has failed to feature in two subsequent outings when reverting back to a mile-and-a-half. Opted to bypass the Melbourne Cup in favour of running here but likely to be found wanting once again.
Age: 7yo. Trainer: Fumimasa Takahashi. Draw: 4. General Odds: 200/1.
Hard to pick out any positives for this seven-year-old son of Heart’s Cry. After 35 races to date, this will be his maiden outing in Group 1 company with the seven-year-old failing to feature in any of his previous 10 outing in Group races. One to rule out.
Age: 3yo. Trainer: Peter Schiergen. Draw: 7. General Odds: 16/1.
Tunnes is an unbeaten half-brother to Arc winner Torquator Tasso and has impressed on each start to date, most notably when making all for a dominant 10 lengths victory in the Group 1 Grosser Allianz-Preis von Bayern (won last year by Alpinista) at Munich last time out. Quick ground would be a concern, but he has a lovely spot in stall 7 and is arguably Europe’s best hope in the race, despite the forecast odds.
Age: 4yo. Trainer: Takahisa Tezuka. Draw: 17. General Odds: 25/1.
Uberleben has failed to press on after winning the Japanese Oaks here in May last year, going winless in six subsequent starts and failing to hit the frame on each occasion. She was a narrow fifth at big odds in the Dubai Sheema Classic behind Shahryar among those efforts, but she has been unable to find any consistency and is easy to overlook from a wide draw here.
Age: 6yo. Trainer: Yoshito Yahagi. Draw: 9. General Odds: 100/1.
Unicorn Lion runs for last year’s winning trainer Yoshito Yahagi but is highly unlikely to follow on from Contrail’s heroics 12 months ago. The six-year-old was well-beaten in his first three starts this year but bounced back to form when running out a shock winner of the Grade 3 Fukushima Kinen two weeks ago. Connections will be hopeful he can hold that form when backing up so soon but has much more on his plate this time around.
Age: 5yo. Trainer: Kunihiko Watanabe. Draw: 6. General Odds: 11/2.
Ryan Moore takes the ride on Vela Azul as the jockey looks to win his second Japan Cup, following on from victory aboard Gentildonna in the 2013 renewal. This late-blooming five-year-old has took his form to another level since switching to turf this year and now looks the finished article as a physical. This will be his first visit to Tokyo but the course should suit and has the ideal berth in stall 6.
Age: 5yo. Trainer: Yasutoshi Ikee. Draw: 3. General Odds: 20/1.
A second dart in the race for trainer Yasutoshi Ikee sees Weltreisende handed a low draw in the hands of crack Australian jockey Damian Lane. His mount has been a solid and consistent runner at this level throughout his 11-race career to date but is 0/4 in Group 1 company and may well find one or two too good once again, particularly with stamina doubts hanging over the son of Dream Journey.
The Europeans have been dealt a favourable hand with low numbers across the board, with home fancies Danon Beluga (stall 14) and Shahryar (stall 15) not faring quite as well.
Onesto has rock-solid Group 1 form in the bank but may just find this a step too far following a demanding season. Tunnes – Cologne slang for prankster – has done nothing wrong to date and any potential rain would not harm his chances. He is the pick of the European raiders with trainer Peter Schiergen having had ample experience at peaking his horses for these top international races.
That said, it may not be enough to end the 27-year losing spell for the European raiders with Shahryar taken as the likeliest winner. The four-year-old has had excuses for two recent below-par efforts but returns to a mile-and-a-half should enable him to re-discover his very best form.
The improving Danon Beluga can prove best of the rest but may find the weight of history too much in his bid for glory. No horse has been able to win the race on just their fifth career start and no three-year-old has been victorious without a previous Group 1 triumph to their name.
1) Shahryar 2) Danon Beluga 3) Tunnes 4) Onesto
For more information about the Japan Cup, head to the race's official website.
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