G1 Japan Cup Dirt Preview
Twenty-two horses overseas were extended invitations for the 11th Japan Cup Dirt on Saturday, December 4th, the fourth and final race of the Japan Autumn Invitational. None, however, have accepted the invite, leaving the approx. 1 mile race at Hanshin Racecourse to be contested by Japanese runners only.
With last year’s winner and the reigning February Stakes champion Espoir City also out, the first place is completely up for grabs.
Coverage from Hanshin Racecourse starts at 11:30pm ET/8:30pm PT on TwinSpires.
The following are the early favorites for this year’s Japan Cup Dirt:
ALISEO: The winner of the Fuji TV Sho Spring Stakes and Mainichi Okan will take a shot on dirt for the first time after the 3-year-old colt finished 14th out of 18 in the Tenno Sho (Autumn). The Noriyuki Hori-trained Aliseo, by Symboli Kris S and owned by the Shadai Race Horse syndicate, has long been touted for his potential, but in the first two Classic races, he finished fifth and 13th in the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) and Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby), respectively. The ownership is hoping a change of scenery will finally do the trick for Aliseo, with Symboli Kris S being the second leading sire on dirt this season after Kurofune. Without Espoir City and any competition from overseas, Aliseo has every chance at the Japan Cup Dirt title as long as he can make the transition from turf to dirt. "We’ve kept him fit because we had both the Mile Championship and Urawa Kinen in sight all long," assistant trainer Atsunori Hashimoto said. "He looks a lot sharper at the moment than he ever has been. It’ll be his first dirt race but we have reason to believe he can make the adjustment."
KING’S EMBLEM: The War Emblem 5-year-old will be going head-to-head against his half brother and Japanese dirt legend Vermilion in the Japan Cup Dirt. King’s Emblem, out of Scarlet Lady by Sunday Silence, won his first graded race in the Oct. 2 Sirius Stakes at Hanshin over 10 furlongs, followed by a runner-up finish in the 1,800-meter Miyako Stakes at Kyoto (both races are Grade 3). King’s Emblem belongs to the same stable as Vermilion, and trainer Sei Ishizaka – who can win his third Japan Cup Dirt title after Alondite in 2006 and Vermilion in 2007 – believes the horse has every chance of marking his Grade 1 debut with victory. "He’s been full of energy since his last start," Ishizaka said. "I think the jockey has a very good feel for the horse now, and no one stands out in this year’s field. I like to think we have a legitimate shot at winning a Grade 1 title."
ORO MEISTER: The 5-year-old son of Gold Allure beat the best dirt horse in Japan in Espoir City at the Mile Championship Nambu Hai in Morioka last month, but fell to 10th out of 13 in the JBC Classic on Nov. 3, which was won by Smart Falcon. Yutaka Yoshida is bidding for his 10th Grade 1 title here, his first since winning the Mile Championship two year ago aboard Bluemenblatt. If Oro Meister is anywhere near the form he was two starts ago, then look out. "He was a little worked up ahead of his last start," trainer Yokichi Okubo said. "The distance will be the same this time, so how he manages that will be the key."
SILK MOBIUS: The runnerup to Espoir City last year as a tender 3-year-old, Silk Mobius came in fourth in the JBC Classic on Nov. 3 after capturing the 2,000-meter Breeders’ Gold Cup on Aug. 12 at Monbetsu in Hokkaido Prefecture – over Kane Hekili, by four lengths. With a win and a pair of second-place finishes in three previous starts at Hanshin, the Masazo Ryoke-trained Silk Mobius should bounce back for the Japan Cup Dirt under Hiroyasu Tanaka, who has handled the reins in 11 of the last 12 starts. "He just went through the motions last week because he’s already in shape," assistant trainer Taku Narumi said. "We won’t have to do much more this week either. We were second last year, and we really want to get it done this time. But he needs the pace to suit him, so we’ll see how it goes."
VERMILION: While the 8-year-old dirt legend may be far removed from his peak years, the El Condor Pasa son has an opportunity here to pick up the 10th Grade 1 victory of his decorated career, given the level playing field in this year’s Japan Cup Dirt. The winner of this race in 2007, Vermilion will make his first start this weekend since the Teio Sho at Ohi Racecourse on June 30, when he wound up ninth in a race won by Furioso. Vermilion will be appearing in the Japan Cup Dirt for the fifth consecutive year – he was a distant eighth to Espoir City as the second choice last season – but has traditionally kicked off his autumn campaign with the JBC Classic. How the lack of a prep race will impact Vermilion on Sunday remains to be seen although in 2006, he ended up fourth in the Japan Cup Dirt coming out of a break of six months. Trainer Sei Ishizaka, who is eyeing a one-two with Vermilion’s half brother King’s Emblem, insists the horse needed the time off given his age now. He also expects jockey Yuichi Fukunaga, who rode Vermilion for the first time in five years at the Teio Sho, to generate more out of the horse this time around. "We had to give him enough time to recover after the Teio Sho," Ishizaka said. "On top of that, we feel like he’s always run well even after a long layoff so that’s why decided to pass on the JBC Classic and start directly with the Japan Cup Dirt. He’s 8-years-old now so if the pace picks up, how he keeps up will be the key for him. He’s in good form at the moment, and we’re counting on the ability which has gotten him through over the years."