Kitasan Black winning the Japan Cup 2016 under Yutake Take
PICTURE: Masakazu Takahashi
THERE were familiar scenes in Tokyo on Sunday as Kitasan Black led home a clean sweep for the locals in the Japan Cup ahead of a disappointing overseas contingent.
The quality of overseas runners in the Japan Cup has slipped since Luca Cumani’s Alkaased became the last foreign-trained winner back in 2005 and this raiding party was one of the weakest yet.
The team of three (Iquitos, Nightflower and Erupt) arrived with peak RPRs no higher than 116 for the season. They were sent off at big odds and finished as expected in seventh, 12th and 14th.
This left the favourite Kitasan Black (122) simply needing to run to form to beat familiar rivals Sounds Of Earth (118) and Cheval Grand (118).
The winner produced a rating in line with the ten-year average of 121 for winners of the Cup. It has been a decade since a horse trained outside Japan has hit the first three in the Japan Cup, but that is not because the locals have improved.
No raiders like Alkaased any more
It’s because internationals with the ability of Alkaased and Ouija Board, who finished third in 2006, no longer turn up.
This could be down to the increase in competition faced by the Japan Cup from other valuable end-of-year race meetings in France, USA, Hong Kong, Australia and, since British Champions Day began in 2011, the UK.
It could also be because of a notion that Japanese middle-distance talent is the best in the world, which may have seen their racing become a victim of its own success.
Japanese horses have won Group 1s in Australia, Hong Kong, Dubai and France in the last few years and they even won a Grade 3 in the US last week, with Nuovo Record landing the Red Carpet Handicap at Del Mar.
But this rapid growth in global success and a burgeoning reputation may have contributed to the drop in international support for Japanese domestic racing.
The Japan Racing Association has tried to open up its racing to internationals. In 2008 they created the four-race Autumn International series, with the Japan Cup as its flagship contest. But after a couple of wins for Snow Fairy in the 2010 and 2011 QEII Cup, the series has quickly reverted to being a largely domestic affair.
No foreign runner has hit the frame in any of the four Autumn International races for the last five years, and the QEII Cup and Mile Championship have failed to attract a single international runner.
End of season saturated
The problem for Japan is that because the end of the season has become so saturated with valuable prizes all over the world their huge prize-money offer will no longer provide the pull it once did. And the perception that their racing is superior in quality could be keeping the top international talent away.
But overseas trainers shouldn’t be scared of tackling Japan’s best races. Their prize-money is still the best around and they offer a variety of travel, bonus and appearance incentives which means raiders often turn a profit no matter what the result.
And if you’re worried about the quality of the home team you should have a look at Japan’s recent record in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
The best horses from Japan are thrown at the French race every year, so it can be used as something of a bellwether to what their best horses are currently capable of, but this year their only runner, Makahiki, finished 14th and last year they had no suitable candidates.
The form of Sunday’s race supports this view of the current state of Japan’s middle-distance division, with Kitasan Black looking a solid and deserving winner but not up to winning an Arc.
Iquitos, who finished seventh, was also beaten similar distances in German Group 1s on his previous two starts.
O’Brien prefers Hong Kong for Reel
Aidan O’Brien was considering sending Highland Reel over for the race and he could have made a race of it with Kitasan Black, but instead he looks set to head to the Hong Kong Vase next week.
The Vase is generally slightly weaker than the Japan Cup, with a ten-year winning average of 119.1. It is of lower value but it carries a Group 1 tag and, being just two weeks after the Tokyo feature, it is in direct competition with the Cup for the leading Europeans.
Arrogate form boosted
In the US there were a couple of shots in the arm for world champion-elect Arrogate last week – not that he needs it.
His breathtaking 13-and-a-half-length win in the Travers Stakes saw him break the clock and the form book, and last week two of his distant rivals that day came out and landed Grade 1 races.
The Clark Handicap and Cigar Mile traditionally round off the year and tidy up the loose formlines in the North American season.
This year they tell us loud and clear that Arrogate could be very special.
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