Aidan O’Brien hopes to serve up another slice of history by winning a rare Group 1 showpiece that has so far eluded him – and the stage could not be more fittingly set, writes Will Jennings.
The aptly-named Japan spearheads the Master of Ballydoyle’s charge for Sunday morning’s prestigious Japan Cup, with a cool €2.4m prize pot on offer for landing the nation’s hottest race.
Not since Staneera snatched a 1983 thriller has an Irish raider reigned supreme in Tokyo and despite triumphs for Michael Kinane on Pilsudski and Oisin Murphy on Suave Richard in the near-four decades since, the wait for an Irish-trained winner goes on.
That could all change in Fuchu in the early hours of Sunday morning, however, as Japan – ridden by Japanese jockey Yutaka Take – bids to rip up the history books and propel O’Brien further into the pantheon of greats.
Take, 52, stands tall as his country’s most successful ever rider and it’s safe to say he knows this race well, masterminding victories in 1998, 2006, 2010 and then in 2016 aboard Hisashi Shimizu’s Kitasan Black.
But it’s O’Brien he joins forces with this year as he jumps aboard a five-year-old colt aiming to get back to the Group 1 big time.
Japan soared to Juddmonte International glory at York in 2019 but is yet to score victory at top-flight level since, winning in Group 3 company at Chester and Leopardstown this summer but unable to re-scale those memorable Knavesmire heights.
And he isn’t the only O’Brien-trained raider hoping to crash the Japanese party this weekend, with stablemate Broome also a contender to emulate Staneera in Tokyo.
O’Brien’s travelling duo have both been widely-drawn in the 18-strong field, with Japan having to battle his way into contention from stall 18 and Broome breaking from three.
And both horses – jointly-owned by Masaaki Matsushima and the remainder of the Coolmore team – are firmly well-acquainted with each other’s company, having duked it out at Del Mar this month in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Broome finished a good second behind Charlie Appleby’s Yibir that day while Japan, ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr, was fourth after encountering a sticky spell in-running.
So both come into Sunday’s showpiece off the back of a rock-solid run and look well-placed to challenge against a star-studded field.
Gianluca Bietolini’s Grand Glory rounds off a trio of European raiders and it’s not just the Irish looking to finally end their Japan Cup drought – a European horse has not won this race since Frankie Dettori steered Luca Cumani’s Alkaased to victory
Home hero Contrail, drawn in stall two, looks likely to head in as favourite after romping to the Japanese Triple Crown – Satsuki Sho, Tokyo Yushun and Kikuka Sho – last year while fellow contender Shahryar flanks Broome on the left in stall four.
Tetsuya Kimura's Authority, Takahisa Tezuka's Uberleben and Yasuyuki Tsujino's Kiseki are among the other entries set to challenge as Fuchu gears up for its annual racing bonanza.
Set your alarms, get the kettle brewing and battle those bracing winter temperatures – this year’s instalment looks set to be a cracker as Japan bids to capture the most fitting of triumphs for O’Brien and Ireland.