The Japanese media might have you believe the lack of top quality, in-form milers in Sunday's Yasuda Kinen leaves the race open for a visiting distance specialist like Glorious Days, but having tried and failed to win the race four times, trainer John Size says he has heard it all before.
"Some years I have come here, the people have told me 'it's not a strong race this season', or 'the horses are a little bit tired', and they haven't been optimistic about the local horses' chances of winning, but that hasn't been proven to be correct," he said. "Every year it is a strong race and so it should be. It is a Group One in Japan, there's only 22 Group Ones each season so they are very hard to win."
Last year's dominant Hong Kong Sprint winner, Lord Kanaloa, steps up to a mile on Sunday, but many are doubting he can run a strong 1,600m, at least at the Fuchu course in Tokyo, while highly rated middle-distance performers Dark Shadow and Shonan Mighty drop back in distance, but are also unproven at the trip. Of the milers, Grand Prix Boss and Sadamu Patek are part of a group labelled "average" by the press.
"As far as the milers are concerned, there is no one dominant-type of horse," Sports Nippon racing writer Sota Okamoto said through an interpreter yesterday. "In recent years the milers haven't been super; in fact they have been very average and that hasn't changed this year."
Okamoto said the consensus was the rising finish at Fuchu would find Lord Kanaloa out, but Size was again unconvinced. "Lord Kanaloa is very highly rated, has loads of ability and he has some form at 1,600m.," he said. "So it is not as if he has never been there. You would have to be optimistic that he could win the race."
Since the Yasuda Kinen was opened to overseas entrants in 1993, outsiders have won just three times - with Hong Kong horses twice taking home the spoils with Fairy King Prawn (2001) and Bullish Luck (2006). The three foreign wins have come from a total of 49 runners though, and, proving the enormity of the task, champions Good Ba Ba and Silent Witness have unsuccessful Yasuda Kinen attempts on their CVs.
Sight Winner finished sixth and fifth in 2009 and 2010 respectively for Size, and an inexperienced Glorious Days was a dismal 14th last year. The closest the trainer came to success was with Amada in 2008 when second to superstar mare Vodka, the first of her back-to-back victories. "My encounter with Vodka, I've never really got over that," Size said. "But I'm doing my best as the years go by and it is certainly an ambition of mine to win the race."
Glorious Days worked on the Tokyo dirt track yesterday, going from an easy gallop into 600m of fast work, all on the bridle, as is the Size style, and then cantered another lap. "It was just the same work he would do at home, we have tried not to change his routine too much," Size said.
Hong Kong's other entrant, Helene Spirit, will do a final piece of fast work this morning, with trainer Caspar Fownes and jockey Gerald Mosse having flown into Tokyo last night.