TOKYO, Japan - The Japanese are known worldwide for their incredible hospitality. Always, it seems, bowing to the wishes of others. This past weekend at the Tokyo Race Course they were polite ... but they were also quite dominant.
In the 11th leg of the Emirates World Series Race Championship, the Japan Cup, there were eight Japanese runners hosting seven foreign challengers. North America sent horses from four of its Hall of Fame trainers: Timboroa (Bobby Frankel); Cagney (Richard Mandella); With Anticipation (Jonathan Sheppard) and White Heat (Neil Drysdale). Europe was represented by Golan from the yard of the legendary English trainer Sir Michael Stoute and Paolini of Germany. Asia sent Indigenous from the stable of Hong Kong's champion trainer Ivan Allen.
When the 2400-meter race was over, Japan had swept the top five spots. Its Derby-winning 3-year-old Jungle Pocket just caught T.M. Opera O, the defending Cup winner and Japan's reigning Horse of the Year to win by a neck in a time of 2:23.8. Jungle Pocket is the first thoroughbred in history to win both the Japan Derby and the Japan Cup in the same year.In third place was Narita Top Road followed by Stay Gold and Meisho Doto.
The best showing from the foreign contingent was Stoute's 3-year-old Golan, finishing sixth in his last race before retiring to stud. Indigenous for Hong Kong was seventh then came the first of the four North American horses, eighth-place finisher White Heart. With Anticipation, who loomed boldly at the head of the long stretch, faded to ninth with Cagney 12th and Timboroa last of the 15 runners. Germany's Paolini disappointed with a 13th placing. This was the fourth straight Japan Cup victory for the home team.
The day before the Cup, the Japanese were even tougher, sweeping the first seven places in the second running of the Group I Japan Cup Dirt (2,100 meters; $2 million dollar purse) and showing the world a potential superstar in the 3-year-old Kurofune. Kurofune's connections immediately announced they were looking to the 2002 Dubai World Cup.
Kurofune means Black Sea in Japanese. A tribute to the name that was on the first ship from America that sailed into Japan's harbor some 150 years ago. That was the beginning of the end of Japan's isolation period. It took a little longer for the empire to open its horse racing.
The Japan Cup was the first real step in 1981 and now some 19 stakes are open to foreign horses, this year's Japan Derby being one of them.
Now you see Japanese bred and trained horses traveling and competing around the world. The Dubai World Cup, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and the Kentucky Derby are recent examples.
By the results of the final Saturday and Sunday in November here at the massive Tokyo Race Course before over 115,000 fans, it's clear that we will see more and better horses from Japan competing around the world.
And don't be fooled by how polite they are. They come to win!