The Japan Cup: runner-by-runner guide to all 18 contenders

Thu 25 Nov 2021

A race for the champion of champions, the Japan Cup is worth well over £4million and the international invitational contest run over a mile and a half at Tokyo has once again attracted overseas performers with Aidan O’Brien running Broome and Japan, while Gianluca Bietolini has sent over Grand Glory from France.

The Japan Cup 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 lifted the prestigious prize.

Only a handful of three-year-olds have ever been successful and two of those – Gentildonna and Almond Eye – became dual winners. Contrail, who became Japan’s eighth Triple Crown winner last season but only the third to do so with a perfect career record, was beaten into second by Almond Eye 12 months ago but returns as a warm favourite despite two defeats in as many starts this season.

Here's a guide to all the contenders. A full replay of the race will be shown on Racing TV's Luck On Sunday.


Age: 4. Trainer: Hidetaka Otonashi. Draw: 9. General odds: 20-1

Only a neck behind Contrail in last season’s St Leger and went one place better on his first start of this calendar year in an 11-furlong Group Two. Not so good subsequently until shaping well on his prep last month when beaten narrowly by the 2016 Derby winner. Doesn’t have too much to find on ratings and logic suggests he’ll be on the premises if somewhere near his Leger form.


Age: 4. Trainer: Tetsuya Kimura. Draw: 7. Odds: 8-1

Authority wins Copa Republica Argentina

Injury has hindered this son or Orfevre but he commands respect, particularly with Christophe Lemaire in the saddle; the Frenchman having won two of the past three renewals to add to his 2009 success aboard Vodka. Authority took his course record to three wins and a second from four visits last time and he’s clearly more at home here than at right-handed Hanshin. Likely to race prominently and dangerous to dismiss lightly with his trainer – for whom this will be a first Japan Cup runner - believing that he has matured and is easier to train than at any point in his career.


Age: 5. Trainer: Aidan O'Brien. Draw: 3. Odds: 12-1

The Verdict: Angus McNae analyses the Breeders' Cup Turf in which Broome was second and Japan was fourth

After two starts in 2020, we’ve seen a new Broome this year with this being the eleventh race of a season where he’s performed consistently (bar a flop in a heavy ground Arc) without sweeping all before him. He has, though, won four times including the Group One Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud when making all. And last time he ran a cracker to be second in the Breeders' Cup Turf. His tactical versatility is a positive, as is Ryan Moore in the saddle. The combination should play a leading role from a good draw.


Age: 4. Trainer: Yoshito Yahagi. Draw: 2. Odds: 4-5

Contrail finishes second in the 2020 Japan Cup

Unbeaten in his first six starts, picking up the Triple Crown in the process (and briefly topping the ante-post lists for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe) before coming up short against Almond Eye in the Japan Cup. Not at that level in hitting the frame in two starts over 10 furlongs this season – latterly in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) - but had valid excuses for both and should appreciate stepping back up in trip. This is his final start and a lucrative stallion career already beckons but his Breeders’ Cup winning trainer has high hopes that his star can bow out on a high. He’s become more unruly through the season in the gates and that could give his team more cause for concern than anything else.

Grand Glory

Age: 5. Trainer: Gianluca Bietolini. Draw: 6. Odds: 20-1

Beaten under a length into third in the 2019 French Oaks but failed to lay a glove on Tarnawa in a brace of top tier races last autumn. Gained a breakthrough when narrowly denying Audarya with a career best performance in the Prix Jean Romanet in August and backed that up with a nose defeat by Rougir at the Arc meeting. Looked a stayer that day but below her best in two runs over 12 furlongs last season.


Age: 5. Trainer: Aidan O'Brien. Draw: 18. Odds: 20-1

For fans of nominative determinism where else could the globetrotting Galileo entire end up? Picked up a pair of Group Threes this season, his first wins since the 2019 Juddmonte International but beaten in his last nine starts at the top level, including when behind Broome at the Breeders’ Cup last time (met some trouble). Passed over by Ryan Moore - who won this race aboard Gentildonna in 2013 – but will be ridden by Japan’s most successful jockey, Yutaka Take, who has lifted this trophy on four occasions, most recently in 2016.


Age: 7. Trainer: Yasuyuki Tsujino. Draw: 5. Odds: 50-1

Tried to make all in 2018 and 2020, finishing second and eighth, while in 2019 he travelled to Europe to contest the Arc where he failed to handle the testing ground in finishing well beaten behind Waldgeist. Continues to hold his form and wasn’t far behind Aristoteles last time but is without a win since 2017. Kiseki translates as miracle and while it may not take that for him to win, it would be a surprise.

Lord My Way

Age: 5 Trainer: Haruki Sugiyama. Draw: 10. Odds: 300-1

A winner of six of his 22 starts but there’s nothing in his back catalogue to suggest that he can find a way to win this.


Age: 8. Trainer: Yasuo Tomomichi. Draw: 15. Odds: 66-1

Last year’s ninth relegated Aristoteles and Kiseki to the places at Hanshin last time to record his first success since winning the Prix Niel in 2016 (having won the Japanese Derby on his preceding start). That proved he’s no back number but the veteran of the field will do well to surpass the fourth placing he achieved in both 2017 and 2019.

Mozu Bello

Age: 5. Trainer: Naoyuki Morita. Draw: 13. Odds: 100-1

Held an entry for this season’s Irish Champion Stakes after a fine four length second in the Osaka Hai (in which Contrail was three parts of a length back in third). Way below that level in three subsequent starts under quicker conditions and will do well to get involved even allowing for a good record at the trip.

Muito Obrigado

Age: 7. Trainer: Koichi Tsunoda. Draw: 1. Odds: 100-1

Google translate has been working overtime but it’s hard to tell whether this excessive expression of gratitude is used sarcastically or not. In a similar vein, this son of Rulership’s course record of four wins from nine starts and career record of six wins and four seconds from 29 runs merits respect.

Sanrei Pocket

Age: 6. Trainer: Yoshitada Takahashi. Draw: 12. Odds: 8-1

Another experienced campaigner who comes into this on the back of a fine fourth in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) and could still be improving as he didn’t make the racecourse until three and was then ruled out for 16 months with an injury sustained on his fourth start. Unproven over the trip but the form of his latest run puts him on the premises.

Shadow Diva

Age: 5. Trainer: Makoto Saito. Draw: 11. Odds: 33-1

Comes into this with confidence high having run her best race of the season when winning over nine furlongs here last time but has done most of her racing at around that trip and is likely to be eclipsed in this company.


Age: 3. Trainer: Hideaki Fujiwara. Draw: 4. Odds: 11-4

Shahryar wins the Japanese Derby

The 2021 Derby winner failed to handle the testing conditions when beaten in a Group Two in September and he’s better judged on his narrow defeat of subsequent Tenno Sho (Autumn) winner Efforia in the course and distance Classic where he showed a terrific turn of foot to extricate himself from trouble and pick up a horse that had got first run. That form leaves him closely rated with Contrail and he’s as big a player as the market suggests with connections delighted with his preparation.



Age: 3. Trainer: Takahisa Tezuka. Draw: 14. Odds: 20-1

This year’s Japanese Oaks winner was having her first start since that Classic, in late May, when beating only three home at Hanshin last month on her first start since suffering a tendon injury so she clearly has questions to answer but she survived a bout of colic in February and proved just as tenacious on the track when winning in the summer. Receives all the allowances as did the last two three-year-olds to win the Japan Cup. Usually races from off the pace so may not be unduly inconvenienced by her high draw.


Age: 6. Trainer: Yasuo Tomomichi. Draw: 17. Odds: 50-1

The 2018 Derby winner hasn’t hit the right notes this season but he did finish fourth in the 2019 Japan Cup and has a good record over this course and distance, so it’s not beyond belief that he could play a part.


Age: 4. Trainer: Kazuo Fujisawa. Draw: 8. Odds: 100-1

A windjammer is a sailing ship and this one will need a fair wind if he’s not to sink without trace on his return to racing on turf after contesting dirt races for the last 16 months (gaining three of his four career wins this season).

You Can Smile

Age: 6. Trainer: Yasuo Tomomichi. Draw: 16. Odds: 100-1

His name put me in mind of a repeated line in Hocus Pocus, “I had to laugh like hell,” and it will take some remarkable magic for him to win this following his well held ninth in the Tenno Sho (Autumn). Finished twelfth (2020) and fifth (2019) in two previous attempts at this prize.


Those drawn low have dominated this race (and the Japanese Derby over C&D) in recent renewals and the fancied runners have fared well.

The two principals are clear form picks. Contrail is the likeliest winner but at odds-on is easy enough to watch given his growing tendency to play up in the gates. There’s little juice in Shahryar’s price either and it’s tempting to look further afield for an each-way play or exotics.

Alkaased was the last international runner to win the Japan Cup in 2005 but international jockeys have ridden the last four winners (and six of the last eight) and it would be no surprise to see Ryan Moore get a good tune out of Broome but at a similar price, preference is for Authority.

The four-year-old faces a fairly quick turnaround but his trainer believes he’s come out of the Copa Republica Argentina well. That form puts him firmly in the mix for minor honours and Lemaire should be able to make the most of a reasonable draw at a venue that suits.

1 Contrail 2 Shahryar 3 Authority

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