Remembering the legend of Dunne's Japan Cup trailblazer Stanerra


1983 victory in showpiece race is the first - and only - Irish success in the race

Friday, November 26, 2021
Frank Dunne's double Royal Ascot winner Stannera won the Japan Cup in 1983, the first Irish trainer horse to claim the showpiece

Frank Dunne's double Royal Ascot winner Stannera won the Japan Cup in 1983, the first Irish trainer horse to claim the showpiece


They take their racing seriously in Japan and for those that witnessed it, the name Stanerra is still spoken about in hushed, almost reverential, tones, writes James Toney.

For Frank Dunne she was the horse of a lifetime, her performance still unmatched by the Irish raiders who have followed, a feat viewed as one of the greatest training performances in international racing history.

Stanerra remains the only Irish-trained winner of the Japan Cup, nearly four decades on from a stunning victory over home favourite Kyoei Promise that silenced a capacity 80,000 crowd at Tokyo’s Fucho racecourse.

The unfashionably-bred rangy chestnut mare was originally sent training with Jim Bolger but was bought by Dunne, of Dunnes Store fame, when he took out his training licence in 1982.

Her five-year-old season in 1983 saw her globetrotting around the world, under the charge of English jockey Brian Rouse.

She won Brigadier Gerard Stakes as a massive outsider at Sandown and then scored twice in four days at Royal Ascot, following victory in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes with a performance labelled by Timeform as ‘spectacular’ to win the Hardwicke Stakes - scorching to a track record time in the process.

After a disappointing finish in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Dunne aimed his charge at the big money Japan Cup - worth the equivalent of €1.4m in today’s money.

However, the journey took its toll, meaning she needed to be walked for six hours every day in the race build-up, Dunne directing operations by phone from Dublin to get his charge to the line on rattling fast ground he knew would suit.

 

With 800m to go Rouse found himself in an unpromising position before unleashing Stanerra in the straight to snatch victory by a head in a thrilling finish.

There have been some Irish victories since, Michael Kinane's 1987 success on Pilsudski and Oisin Murphy's 2019 triumph on Japanese-trained Suave Richard. In addition to Stanerra, there have also been three Irish-bred winners, though it's nearly two decades since the last.

Japan have dominated their own race in the last 15 years, with the feted Almond Eye winning twice in the last three years. But could 2021 be the year things all change, with Aidan O'Brien's suitably-named Japan leading the charge for the €2.4m first prize.

 

Stanerra remains the only Irish-trained winner of the Japan Cup, nearly four decades on from a stunning victory over home favourite Kyoei Promise that silenced a capacity 80,000 crowd at Tokyo’s Fucho racecourse.

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