Superstar stayer Kitasan Black is set to start favourite as he chases back-to-back Japan Cups, but he will have to overcome a couple of top locals in addition to some well-credentialed internationals to claim the title again.
The Hisashi Shimizu-trained five-year-old is fresh off a victory in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) – his sixth at Grade One level – where he blew the start but was still strong enough to finish a neck in front of 2016 Hong Kong Vase hero Satono Crown.
Those two are right at the top of the market again, alongside Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) champion Rey de Oro, who made a winning return in September in the Grade Two Kobe Shimbun Hai to take his record to five victories from six starts.
But the popular Kitasan Black is the one to beat and jockey Yutaka Take thinks he will have plenty of options from barrier four.
“He’s not the kind of horse that has to have things a certain way in order to do well. He has been able to win in a variety of ways and because of that I don’t think I need to limit our options,” Take said.
“I’ll be taking his start, the competition, the draw and the weather into consideration and coming up with what I think will be the best strategy for him. It’s the Japan Cup after all and the field is full of very good horses. There are three-year-olds and horses from overseas and I think it’s a great mix of great horses.”
One of those international runners is Caulfield Cup winner Boom Time, who will be trainer David Hayes’ third runner in the race.
“We’re very excited to be here... it has brought back a lot of happy memories. I’ve had two runners here, for a winner and an unlucky sixth with Jeune. So we’re hoping we can be competitive and right up the top end of the order,” Hayes said.
“His best win was the Caulfield Cup, and the horse he beat [Johannes Vermeer] nearly won the Melbourne Cup. That was a gruelling race, which I thought was run at a tempo that the Japan Cup might be run, so I think that would stand him in good stead.”
The powerful Irish stable Coolmore will be represented by Idaho, who has been racing around the globe since winning the Group Two Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot.
This will be the Aidan O’Brien-trained four-year-old’s fifth consecutive start in a different country, having finished third in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in July, being beaten as favourite in the Sword Dancer Stakes at Saratoga, running eighth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and then coming fourth in the Canadian International Stakes at Woodbine.
Idaho will also have top jockey Ryan Moore on his back, who comes into the race in sensational form having won six races at Tokyo on Saturday.
“Looking at him here, he seems very good from day one from getting here, it was very straightforward, and he travelled here very well,” assistant trainer Thomas Comerford said.
“I do definitely think he’ll run a big race and because he seems to be taking it well, maybe he’s grown up.”
Two German horses – Iquitos and Guignol – complete the international contingent with the former finishing seventh in last year’s Japan Cup.
“I have high hopes of him improving on his last performance this time,” Iquitos’ trainer Hans-Jurgen Groschel said.
“He finished the best among the European horses last year which was a great satisfaction for us and we hope he will be the best of the European horses again this year.”
The Jockey Club will simulcast the Japan Cup during the Sha Tin programme, with the race getting underway at 2.40pm.