Champions Cup (G1) - Preview

After a thrilling Japan Cup witnessed by over 100,000 on course in Tokyo last Sunday, top-level racing action in Japan switches to Nagoya on Sunday, December 3, when Chukyo Racecourse stages the Grade 1 Champions Cup.

The final race in the Japan Autumn International Series will be run over 1,800 meters on the dirt course at the track. It will be the 18th running of the race, which started life as the Japan Cup Dirt in 2000, and was originally run at Tokyo over a distance of 2,100 meters. From 2008, the race switched to Hanshin when it was held over 1,800 meters, but for the last three years, it has provided Chukyo Racecourse with its second Grade 1 race throughout the yearly racing calendar.

The race starts in front of the stands and covers just over a circuit of the track, which has a shorter homestraight than Tokyo. Race conditions make it for 3-year-olds and up, and the maximum number of runners of 16 looks sure to be achieved with 23 nominations on the table. There’s a 97 million yen check going to the winner, and 210 million yen in total, with prize/incentive money being awarded to the first 10 horses past the post.

Lead up races to this year’s Champions Cup have included the Grade 3 Miyako Stakes over 1,800 meters, the Grade 3 Tokyo Chunichi Sports Hai Musashino Stakes over 1,600 meters, and the JBC Classic over 2,000 meters. All of these races were run in November. In the last 10 years, 5-year-olds have come off best, with five of them winning the race, while first favorites have rewarded their followers on four occasions in that same time period. The race record since it’s been held at Chukyo was set just last year, when Sound True stopped the clock in a time of 1 minute, 50.1 seconds. The now 7-year-old gelding is back for another effort in the race this year.

This Sunday’s Champions Cup will be Race 11 on the card at Chukyo, with a post time of 15:30 local time. Here’s a look at some of the runners expected to take part:

Sound True: The tough dirt performer will be defending his title in the Champions Cup, as well as having finished third in the race in 2015. He’s by French Deputy and has finished in the first three 33 times from 44 career races. Only three of his starts have been at Chukyo, but he’s won two of them. He’s coming off a solid win of the JBC Classic at Ohi Racecourse in November. Trainer Noboru Takagi commented: “Coming into the race after winning last time is perfect for him. In that last race, he picked up well from the third corner, found his natural rhythm, and finished things off nicely down the homestraight.” The trainer’s two Grade 1 wins have been with Sound True and Snow Dragon, who claimed the Sprinters Stakes in 2014.

Awardee: The 7-year-old by Jungle Pocket was favorite for the Champions Cup last year, but just had to settle for second. He’s taking the same route to the race again this year, having taken in the JBC Classic most recently, where he finished fourth. He finished fifth in this year’s Grade 1 Dubai World Cup and is looking to give his trainer, Mikio Matsunaga, just his third Grade 1 win. The trainer said, “He drew Gate No. 1 last time, and from the start it was clear things weren’t going to develop well for him, and he didn’t respond so well. Since the race, he’s been working well and putting in some fast work, so things are fine with him.” Jockey Yutaka Take has partnered the horse in his last eleven starts, so he would be expected to be on board again Sunday.

T M Jinsoku: Coming off a win in the Grade 3 Miyako Stakes over 1,800 meters at Kyoto in November, the 5-year-old by Kurofune has been in the first three in all eight of his starts in 2017, and although this will be his first Grade 1, as well as his first visit to Chukyo, trainer Kazuyoshi Kihara will be hoping the horse can prove himself at the top level, giving both horse and trainer their first taste of Grade 1 success. The trainer said, “I think his last race proved he doesn’t have to go straight to the lead. He got over well from a wide draw, and was able to adjust to the pace well and take up a handy position. You could argue that he got to the front too soon between the third and fourth corners, but he won and ran a strong race.”

K T Brave: He might be one of the younger horses in the lineup, but his seven wins and six seconds from 23 starts give him good prospects here. He’s a colt by Admire Max, and he finished sixth in this year’s February Stakes. He finished second to Sound True most recently in the JBC Classic. Trainer Tetsuya Meno stated: “Rather than worrying about other runners, the horse is best when finding his own pace and rhythm. The way he ran last time in the JBC Classic was a solid run, and though he finished second, there wasn’t much in it between him and the winner.”

Copano Rickey: The 7-year-old horse by Gold Allure is still a force to be reckoned with over any distance in dirt races. Although this will be just his second JRA race of the year, he’s been plying his trade with considerable success in NAR dirt races. He’s taken on the Champions Cup three times before, and his best finish was seventh in 2015, the year after he won the February Stakes at a huge price. Trainer Akira Murayama said, “His last win was over 1,600 meters, proving he can win over shorter distances too. He’s kept his condition well after that and there’s no change with him. This time it’ll be 1,800 meters, but he’s versatile, and can run from any position, providing he gets to run at a rhythm that’s good for him.”

Apollo Kentucky: The 5-year-old American bred has a good record with nine wins from 23 starts. It could be said that he often just misses out (he was fifth in last year’s Champions Cup), but he’s always up for the challenge, and his trainer, Kenji Yamauchi, is looking to end his drought in Grade 1s, which now goes back to 2002. The trainer commented: “He’s a big striding horse which needs to be kept in mind. It was unfortunate last time when another horse came on his outside and just seemed to take away some of his momentum in the run for home.”