The race of the season as far as Japanese racing is concerned with an amazing 90-minute pre-race parade to allow the 100,000 plus racing fans to catch a glimpse of their equine heroes. Read on for our horse by horse preview – and our tip for the race, of course.
Much as we would love to find a way to oppose KITASAN BLACK his form is simply outstanding even in this high-class field and he will need to either run below form or meet plenty of trouble in running if anything is to stop him doubling up after last season’s victory. He seems to be a true superstar in the making and will prove very hard to beat though we were sorely tempted by Boom Time each way at a silly price considering he is a Caulfield Cup winner and has excuse last time out when failing to see out the two miles.
1 CHEVAL GRAND – Third in this race last season but the son of Heart’s Cry is yet to win at the highest level which is the only thing that counts against him. Sure to improve for the race after his third following a lay-off in the Kyoto Daishoten and the booking of Hugh Bowman has to be a good thing and he has decent each way possibilities.
2 REY DE ORO – High up in the betting after winning the Japanese Derby and more recently the Grade Two Japanese St Leger Trial where he saw off Kinesi by two lengths who in turn win the St Leger proper. Yet to take on the older horses so the worth of the three-year-old form gets tested here but he does look a superstar in the making and won’t be far away at the finish.
3 GUIGNOL – One of two German raiders, in this case for trainer Jean-Pierre Carvalho and looks the better of the pair on recent form. The son of Cape Cross was last seen winning the Group One Grosser Preis von Bayern at Munich on the first of the month to make it three wins from his last four starts but it would be a shock were he to prove good enough to get competitive here.
4 KITASAN BLACK – The winner last year and quite possibly the winner in 2017 as well barring accidents or trouble in running. This has always been his major target yet he returned from four months off to win the Tenno Sho in horrendous conditions and after a tardy start when seeing off Satono Crown by a neck. Sure to strip race fit after that contest he seems to have few faults with any going trip or track seemingly coming alike, and if in the mood he seems sure to run a huge race.
5 SOUNDS OF EARTH – Second in this race last year but that may well have been his career peak and he hasn’t looked likely to repeat that sort of form in four races since and was beaten ten lengths last time out at Kyoto. May come alive back at this track come race day but an outside this year and rightly so on recent efforts.
6 IQUITOS – The German number two on all known form having finished behind compatriot Guignol four times now though to be fair, he was only beaten a neck last time out and does handle the track having been beaten four lengths in seventh here last year. Looks up against it in this field again but won’t run a bad race with Daniele Porcu in the saddle.
7 DECIPHER – One of the likely outsiders here. A grand servant with twenty-four starts at the age of eight and over one and three-quarter million pounds in win and place prize money but without a victory since way back in January 2016 and yet to win at Grade One level. Ten and a half lengths behind Kitasan Black here last time out and seems outclassed here.
8 SOUL STIRRING – The winner of the Japanese Oaks and thus ought to be a major player again here but the Frankel filly has disappointed twice since against older horses and it may just be that the three-year-old fillies don’t add up to much this season. Held by Kitasan Black and others on Tenno Sho form from late October and has to do a lot better now if Cristian Demuro is to get her involved in the finish.
9 RAINBOW LINE – Connections of the son of Stay Gold will be happy enough if the rains fall and managed to serve it up to Kitasan Black and Satono Crown with the rest trailing five lengths and more behind, but that was on very soft ground and he seems unlikely to be able to reverse that form this afternoon on quicker going.
10 BOOM TIME – Heads over to challenge on behalf of Australia and trainer David Hayes after failing to see out the two miles of the Melbourne Cup when weakening in to fifteenth, beaten a long way at the line. Better back at this trip and the winner of the Caulfield Cup he is clearly very smart and as his trainer won this race back in 1990 with Better Loosen Up, the subject of a massive gamble, he knows exactly what is needed and could be a very interesting player.
11 MAKAHIKI – On his best form he has every chance but on recent efforts, none, which makes him all the more interesting. Last season he won the Japanese Derby and the Prix Niel on his way to the Arc de Triomphe where he finished a below form fourteenth to found and he is yet to register a really good run in four starts since. When or if he bounces back he could well get involved, but with no evidence of that he may be best left alone for now.
12 SATONO CROWN – Obviously a very serious player here and only a neck behind Kitasan Black last time out when running on strongly over shorter. That form may well be the key here but you need a good imagination to see him hauling back the leader who has any amount in hand that day, but with the rub of the green he won’t be far away again and has a place in him here at the very least.
13 SCIACCHETRA – Lightly raced with five starts for a win at Nakayama but found out last time when tried against the big guns and finishing over fifty-seven lengths adrift of Kitasan Black and with no obvious excuses other than being outclassed, he is impossible to seriously consider here.
14 IDAHO – Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore are a combination that just cannot be ignored, and after six wins in Japan on Saturday the jockey is rapidly reaching idol status. Why Ballydoyle have chosen the four-year-old Galileo colt to be their one representative here only they know, but he does arrive with some decent European form including a Hardwicke Stakes win at Royal Ascot and he could well challenge for the places.
15 ONE AND ONLY – The winner of the Japanese Derby in 2014 but not at his best recently and hasn’t won since September the same year. Held by plenty of this field after finishing seventeenth of eighteen here (beaten sixty-four lengths) behind the favourite and on that form, he is only here to make up the numbers.
16 YAMAKATSU ACE – The Kitasan Black form is getting repetitive but this son of King Kamehameha is yet another who finished behind the latest superstar, in his case beaten “just” the sixteen lengths. Plenty to find on that effort as well as being outclassed on earlier form, and he ought to find the step up in to this class proves way beyond his abilities.
17 LAST IMPACT – A bigger price than his best form warrants with a second to Shonan Pandora in this race in 2015 and a tenth here last year. He finished in front of Highland Reel at Meydan when third to Postponed in the 2016 Sheema Classic on World Cup day in Dubai and although not at his best of late, he could well mount a decent challenge if he can possibly recapture that sort of form.