R acing fans will be treated to a must-see today at Tokyo Racecourse. In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Japan Racing Association, two of the biggest Grade I events of the year — the Japan Cup Dirt and the Japan Cup — both international invitationals, follow each other in a one-two, top-level combination that constitutes a Japan racing first.

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Warrsan breezes down the Tokyo turf under Kieren Fallon Thursday in preparation for the Japan Cup. Warrsan is trained by Clive Brittain, who, in his sixth bid, is hoping for his second Japan Cup win.

24th Japan Cup

The Japan Cup, run over 2,400 meters of turf, is nearly a quarter of a century old. Inaugurated with the aim of raising the level of Japanese racing and its racehorses, the Japan Cup did just that. Though in the early years it was extremely rare for a local horse to win, the past 12 runnings have seen the money stay at home seven times. And big money it is. The total purse of the Japan Cup is now 476 million yen, with 250 million yen going to the winner.

This year, five horses from abroad have answered the challenge to take on the ever-stronger home team. And this year, Japan is once again looking set for victory, its second in a row.

The 4-year-old strikingly handsome dark bay colt Zenno Rob Roy will likely be the overwhelming favorite. The Sunday Silence son, trained by Japan’s leading trainer, Kazuo Fujisawa, is a consistent runner. He is fresh off his first Grade I win, the fall Emperor’s Prize, and boasts three runnerup efforts in five previous G1 starts.

Zenno Rob Roy is to be ridden by Olivier Peslier from France, who is a seasoned Japan Cup jockey and highly successful here. His recent wins in Japan include Zenno Rob Roy’s run in the Emperor’s Prize at Tokyo and last year’s wins of the Emperor’s Prize and the Arima Memorial aboard ’03 Horse of the Year Symboli Kris S.

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Total inpact, repersenting the U.S. in the Japan Cup Dirt, comes out for a look around at Tokyo on thursday.

Second pick is likely to be Cosmo Bulk, trained on the local racing scene in Hokkaido. The 3-year-old Zagreb colt started the year brightly but, with a tendency to fall to pieces under pressure, has not been consistent in national-level races.

Today, however, sees Cosmo Bulk with a new rider, Frenchman Christophe Lemaire, who will likely be a more supportive shoulder to lean on when the going gets rough.

Gaining support at the betting windows are also likely to be Narita Century and Heart’s Cry, along with Delta Blues, coming off a win of the Kikkasho, the final leg of the triple crown. Hookipa Wave and Higher Game are not to be overlooked.

Five runners representing three countries make up the foreign team, including the French filly Lune d’Or and the 4-year-old colt Policy Maker, also from France. Phoenix Reach and Warrsan carry the flag for Britain and Powerscourt, the first entrant fielded by famed trainer Aidan O’Brien, represents Ireland.

News photoIreland’s Japan Cup contender, Powerscourt, is led out for work early Thursday morning at Tokyo Racecourse.

Of the foreign raiders, Powerscourt and Warrsan, spearheading a strong European challenge, look to top the list of fans’ choices. Powerscourt, a 4-year-old colt by Sadler’s Wells, has not had a win of a Group I since May of this year, despite six attempts after that but did finish third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Oct. 30. The fact that O’Brien has chosen not to attend the race, is, however, being seen as a strike against the colt.

The 6-year-old Warrsan, on the other hand, has had two wins in seven starts this year. Veteran trainer Clive Brittain, 70, says a lighter schedule schedule has left the horse fresher than last year.

Brittain won his first Japan Cup bid in 1986 with Jupiter Island but fared poorly after that in Japan. “I’m known as the eternal optimist,” he said Thursday at the Japan Cup press conference, “started off great, gradually went downhill and am looking to come back up that hill pretty quick come Sunday.” Kieren Fallon is up.

Japan Cup Dirt

The 2,100-meter Japan Cup Dirt, with a top prize of 130 million yen, is in its fifth year. Split until now with two wins by Japan and two by overseas runners, the race this year is expected, if one can believe the fans, to go to hands-down favorite Admire Don, a 5-year-old son of Timber Country, who was third by a neck in the ’02 Japan Cup Dirt, second by a nose in ’03.

Admire Don has won three of this year’s five races, which included a trip to the Dubai World Cup, in which he finished eighth. He has 10 wins in 20 career starts

Giving him a run for his money will be Total Impact, one of the three foreign entrants. The California-based, Stuka-sired Total Impact landed his first Grade I race in July in Hollywood Park’s Gold Cup Stakes. He is currently 5 for 21.

According to assistant trainer Brian Eide, Total Impact “is the kind of horse who doesn’t need to take his racetrack with him,” and is expected to take to the Tokyo surface well.

Rider Mike Smith has ridden three of Total Impact’s wins and is paired with the Chile-bred chestunut today.

After the top two picks, in order of popularity is likely to be a slew of home-team contenders, including Lohengrin, Time Paradox, Utopia, Gene Crisis, and Hard Crystal.

Kieren Fallon will also take the reins of the 5-year-old Danehill gedling Vortex, representing England, from the stables of Gay Kelleway. Vortex, currently 10 for 28, has done splendidly this year. A general lack of top-level races over dirt, however, has restricted him to the lower levels.

He notched the listed Prammes Memorial in Sweden in May and the Nickes Minneslopning, Sweden’s biggest dirt race, in September. Kelleway said, “I agree, it’s tough to step up to a Group 1 race. . . . My only concern is the distance. . . . I think, ridden right and held up, he’ll get the distance.”

Also fielded from overseas is the 3-year-old colt Omikron from Germany, who is on dirt for the first time.


Nothing ventured, nothing gained . . .

After getting to know the field, putting a bet down is virtually a must. In Japan, fans are limited to parimutuel betting, which means odds are fixed according to the amount of money wagered nationwide.

Japan racing fans were long limited to only a few types of bets on racing at the national level (JRA), win, place and bracket quinella. Slowly, the types of wagers expanded to include more exotic wagers such as exactas and trifecta though there are still no combination race bets yet. Here’s a brief explanation of the various bets available. Japanese names follow in parentheses:

WIN (Tansho) — The good old standby. Pick a horse you think is going to win. Select by the number on the horse’s saddle cloth or gate position, they are the same in Japan.

PLACE (Fukusho) — Select one horse to come in first, second or third. You don’t have to specify which. This is the easiest bet to win, thus, it also generally has the lowest odds.

QUINELLA BETS — Quinella bets are the most popular bets. Offering much higher odds than win or place bets, they still offer a good chance of being winning ones. In a quinella the horses selected can finish in any order.

BRACKET QUINELLA (Wakuren) — The bracket quinella first calls for an explanation of the term “bracket.” The gate in Japanese races is divided into up to eight brackets, with colors for each; bracket 1 is white, 2 is black, red 3, 4 blue, 5 yellow, 6 green, 7 orange and 8 pink.

These are the colors of the jockeys’ helmet coverings. The owners’ colors are only the shirts. A full gate is never more than 18 horses, which means the first six brackets can have two horses each, and the last two, the seventh and eighth brackets, can have up to three each.

When you place a bet using the bracket numbers 1-8, you are betting on all the horses in that bracket. Either or any of them can come in.

This can work against you if a highly favored horses is in your bracket, as it will lower the odds overall. It can help you, however, if you are simply uncertain and want to bet as many horses as possible without having thrown away money on bets that didn’t come in at all.

Bracket quinella are also great if you were born, for example, on Jan. 1, March 3, or May 5, and want to put money down on your birth date.

QUINELLA (Umaren) — This bet narrows things down to just two horses. You pick two by their saddle cloth numbers. They must come in first and second, but in either order.

QUINELLA PLACE (Waido) — This is just an extension of the regular quinella, but usually with lower odds as your chances are usually better for winning. You again pick two horses by their numbers but third place is included. This means you have three possible winning combinations, first and second, second and third, or first and third.

TRIO (Sanrenpuku) — This is an extension of the quinella. You pick three horses by their numbers and they must make up the top three finishers, but in any order.

EXACTA (Umatan) — This is the easiest of the “hard” bets. You must pick the top two finishers in their correct order.

TRIFECTA (Sanrentan) — This the most difficult bet there is in Japan. You pick the top three finishers, in that order.

Where to Bet

You can place bets at JRA racetracks or at offtrack betting outlets known as WINS.

In the Tokyo area, there are WINS in Asakusa, Kinschicho, two in Ginza, two in the Shimbashi area, one in Shinjuku, Shibuya, Korakuen and Tachikawa.

Bets must generally be filled out on computer-readable cards. There are some windows still where bets can be made verbally.

When placing a bet you need to know the horse numbers and/or brackets they’re in (depending on the type of bet you’re placing), the number of the race, the track they’re running at and the type of bet you want to make.

Sports newspapers

For those who don’t want to do their own thinking, but would still like to have, or think they have, more than a blind jab at winning, pick up any Japanese sports newspaper. In it, you will find a wide selection of suggested bets for each race.

Getting to the track

Tokyo Racecourse is about a half-hour ride by express train from Shinjuku.

Take the Keio Line to Higashi Fuchu (one stop before Fuchu) and transfer across the platform to a train that will take you one stop to the main gates.

Admission to the track is 200 yen.

Or, you can take the JR Musashino Line to Fuchu-honmachi Station. The racetrack is 5 minutes away by foot.

Seeing the races

The race will be televised on Fuji Terebi (Channel 8 in Tokyo)

Post time for the Japan Cup Dirt is 2:45 p.m. The Japan Cup starts at 3:45 p.m.

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