Stephen Foster (G1) hero Pavel, most recently 10th in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) for the second straight year, will try to rebound in Sunday’s $1.9 million Champions Cup (G1) – formerly known as the Japan Cup Dirt – at Chukyo.
Trainer Doug O’Neill sent out the only international winner in the race’s 18-year history, Fleetstreet Dancer (2003), but his stable star Lava Man could do no better than 11th in 2005. Although the distance and venue have changed over time, the futility of international raiders has not, and it’s been three years since one tried. The last was Hong Kong’s Gun Pit, the trailer in 2015, while Imperative (15th in 2014), Pants on Fire (last of 15 in 2013), and Tizway (12th in 2009) were the past three American-based runners to make the attempt.
If Pavel can defy the trend and manage a top-three result with Mario Gutierrez, he is eligible for bonuses as the Stephen Foster winner. A win furnishes an extra $700,000 windfall, but the $280,000 bonus for second and $175,000 for third are substantial too.
Pavel, who was fourth in the Dubai World Cup (G1) in his first foreign venture, faces a task in Sunday’s renewal led by the exciting Le Vent Se Leve. On the Japan Road to the 2018 Kentucky Derby when capturing last December’s Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun, the unbeaten colt was unfortunately sidelined.
Le Vent Se Leve lost his perfect record in his comeback, finishing second in the April 1 Fukuryu S., but has since reeled off three straight. Victorious over fellow sophomores in the Unicorn S. (G3) and Japan Dirt Derby, the Symboli Kris S colt defeated older horses in the October 8 Mile Championship Nambu Hai. In the process he beat the reigning champion dirt horse in Japan, Gold Dream, who had turned the February (G1)/Champions Cup double in 2017. Regular rider Mirco Demuro will guide Le Vent Se Leve from post 2, just to the inside of Pavel in post 3.
Gold Dream has reportedly been ruled out of a title defense due to injury, but last year’s Champions Cup fourth K T Brave is back in peak form. The winner of three of his past four, K T Brave was a neck away from a streak when just missing to Gold Dream in the June 27 Teio Sho, and he recently scored his first major in the November 4 JBC Classic at Kyoto.
JBC Classic runner-up Omega Perfume gives another form tie-in with Le Vent Se Leve, having played second fiddle to him in the Japan Dirt Derby. Bookending those efforts was a victory in the Sirius (G3) over Westerlund, Sunrise Soar (also the third-placer to K T Brave and Omega Perfume in the JBC Classic), and Hiraboku la Tache (who came back to dismiss older horses in the Fukushima Minyu Cup). Note that Omega Perfume gets a rider switch to Cristian Demuro, and pace factor Sunrise Soar picks up Joao Moreira.
Deep closer Nonkono Yume, up in time to edge Gold Dream in the February, has since checked in fourth in both the Mile Championship Nambu Hai and JBC Classic. Runner-up in the 2015 Champions Cup but unplaced the past two editions, he remains capable in the right circumstances.
The similarly styled Sunrise Nova, fourth in the February, has racked up three straight at Tokyo, making it a hat trick in the Musashino (G3). Also exiting the Musashino is Incantation, sixth as the defending champion. The oldest horse in the field at the age of eight, the multiple Grade 1-placed Incantation has landed the far outside post 15 in his third crack at the race, but first since 2014.
Apollo Kentucky has back class as the 2016 Tokyo Daishoten (G1) winner. If his last pair leaves some hesitation, he has chased K T Brave home three times this season. Ange Desir, the lone filly, has drawn the rail. The daughter of Deep Impact was fifth versus males in the Elm (G3) back in August, but she comes off a new career high in the JBC Ladies’ Classic.
March (G3) scorer Centurion must step up from an 11th in the JBC Classic, multiple listed winner Mitsuba has yet to break through at the graded level, and Asukano Roman hasn’t hit the board since his third in the 2016 Champions Cup.