Nightflower in her spiffy German Racing blanket, courtesy of Cologne Raceclub (Kolner Renn-Verein) via Twitter.
The European challenge for the November 29 Japan Cup (G1) has been denuded of late, with Flintshire and Free Eagle both preferring to go directly to the December 13 Hong Kong International Races. At the moment, four internationals remain in the mix for the Tokyo highlight — Grand Prix de Paris (G1) hero Erupt, Ascot Gold Cup (G1) winner Trip to Paris, and the German duo of Ito and Nightflower.
Erupt, who was under consideration for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) before connections opted for Japan, is a Niarchos homebred trained by up-and-coming Francis-Henry Graffard. Unraced at two, the Dubawi colt won his first four starts this season. He progressed rapidly up the class ladder from a maiden win, to a victorious stakes debut in the Coupe des Trois Ans, followed by higher level success in the June 14 Prix du Lys (G3).
Exactly a month later on Bastille Day, Erupt raised his profile with a convincing score in the Grand Prix de Paris, leaving Epsom and Irish Derby (G1) placer Storm the Stars back in third. Subsequently fourth on very soft going in his Arc trial, the Prix Niel (G2), Erupt improved off that prep to finish a solid fifth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1). Note that Found, a troubled ninth in the Arc, came back to beat Derby/Arc star Golden Horn in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
The Ed Dunlop-trained Trip to Paris is likely to find 1 1/2 miles, in this company, too short for him. While the marathoner was a good second to Mongolian Khan at this trip in the October 17 Caulfield Cup (G1), the Japan Cup will be tougher. As a reference point, Caulfield Cup third Our Ivanhowe was only sixth in last year’s Japan Cup. You could argue the overall depth of the 2014 Japan Cup versus this renewal, but the point still holds that Tokyo’s waters are deeper than those he waded in at Caulfield.
In addition to trip concerns for a horse whose signature win came in the 2 1/2-mile Ascot Gold Cup (G1), Trip to Paris hasn’t had a straightforward path here. Somewhere during his fine fourth in the two-mile Melbourne Cup (G1), a rival struck into him, and he exited a bit banged up. Dunlop must be pleased, however, with his progress to accept his Japan Cup invitation. Yet recall Dunlop’s past Melbourne-to-Tokyo gambit with his old warrior Red Cadeaux, who wound up eighth in the 2012 Japan Cup.
Ito, based in Germany with Jean-Pierre Carvalho, has made his early speed a lethal weapon at times. The Gestut Schlenderhan homebred wired the Grosser Preis der Badischen Unternehmer (G2) by four lengths back in June, and most recently hacked up by the same margin in the November 1 Grosser Preis von Bayern (G1). In between, Ito nearly held on the August 9 Grosser Preis von Berlin (G1), only to be mugged by Second Step. His lone unplaced effort this campaign was a fourth in the September 27 Grosser Preis von Europa (G1) to Japan Cup rival Nightflower.
Three-year-old filly Nightflower is trained by Peter Schiergen of Danedream fame. Schiergen has had a successful 2015, with victories by Nutan in the German Derby (G1), Lucky Speed in the American St Leger (G3), and Lovelyn in the Gran Premio Del Jockey Club (G1), Italian Oaks (G2) and Grosser Hansa-Preis (G2).
Nightflower, who placed twice in France early in the season, broke her maiden in the May 24 Diana-Trial (G2) at Hoppegarten. Never involved when eighth in the French Oaks (G1), the daughter of Dylan Thomas was a much better runner-up in the German equivalent at Dusseldorf. She tackled older males in the September 6 Grosser Preis von Baden (G1) and fared best of those ridden up on the pace, finishing second to late-running Prince Gibraltar. Schiergen later commented that she was in front too soon that day. Nightflower earned her Group 1 coup next time in the Grosser Preis von Europa, beating older males Sirius, Dubday, and the aforementioned Ito. The 11-pound weight concession was helpful, and she’ll get a nine-pound pull from the older males at Tokyo.