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Champions Cup (G1) Race Preview: Chukyo - Sunday, 3rd December 2023

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The 24th running of the Champions Cup will be held on Sunday, December 3rd and it is a 1,800m dirt event at Chukyo Racecourse.

JUN LIGHT BOLT winning the Champions Cup at Chukyo in Japan.
JUN LIGHT BOLT winning the Champions Cup at Chukyo in Japan. Picture: Japan Racing Association

After a thrilling Japan Cup on Sunday, the top-level JRA action switches to the Chukyo Racecourse, just outside the city of Nagoya, for the Grade 1 Champions Cup on Dec. 3. It is one of just two JRA Grade 1 races run on dirt, and one of only two Grade 1 races run at the Chukyo track.

Formerly known as the Japan Cup Dirt, the Grade 1 Champions Cup has had an interesting history so far, with the distance of the race, as well as the venues for it, often changing since it was first run at Tokyo in 2000 over 2,100 meters. It was also run at Hanshin from 2008 until 2013, but has been run at the left-handed Chukyo track over 1,800 meters since 2014, which is also when it got its current name.

There have been 19 nominations for the race, which is for 3-year-olds and up, and there will be a maximum number of 16 runners, with 3-year-olds set to carry 57kg, while 4-year-olds and above are allotted 58kg, with a 2kg allowance for fillies and mares. It is the final leg of the Japan Autumn International Series of races, and therefore open to horses from overseas, of which there have been 29 in total over the years. The only foreign winner of the race was Fleetstreet Dancer in 2003, and the last runner from abroad was America's Pavel in 2018. Despite there being originally 18 nominations from outside of Japan (all from America) this year, there will be no overseas runners.

Some of the races leading into Sunday's big race have been ones at NAR tracks, namely the Teio Sho and the JBC Classic at Oi, and the Mile Championship Nambu Hai at Morioka. In the last 10 years, just two first favorites have won the Champions Cup, with the last one being T O Keynes in 2021. Five-year-olds have won four times in that same time period, with last year's winner Jun Light Bolt the last one to do so. The last 3-year-old winner was Chrysoberyl in 2019, and the colt also holds the record time for the race at Chukyo, winning in 1 minute, 48.5 seconds that year. This year's winner's check is JPY120 million (just under USD1 million) out of a total purse of JPY259 million.

The 24th Champions Cup will be Race11 on the Sunday card at Chukyo, with a post time of 15:30. Final declarations and barrier draw will be available later in the week. Here is a look at some of the runners expected to take on the race:

Lemon Pop: The American-bred by Lemon Drop Kid has won nine of his 13 career starts, and was back to his best last time when winning the Mile Championship Nambu Hai at Morioka in October, after his worst ever result two starts ago in the Grade 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen at Meydan in March, where he finished 10th. "After the Nambu Hai, he had close to a month's break at the farm, and on returning to the stable he's fine. He's better for taking it easy after the trip to Dubai. It'll be the first time for him to run in a race where he has to take in four corners, and 1,800 meters might just be his limit, but I think he has enough talent and ability to overcome these things," stable connections said.

Seraphic Call: The 3-year-old colt by Henny Hughes is looking like he is something special, with five straight wins and no losses on the board, and he picked up his first graded win last time in the Grade 3 Miyako Stakes over 1,800 meters at Kyoto in November. Trainer Ryo Terashima commented: "It was a strong win last time in the Miyako Stakes. He slipped slightly at the start, and from the position he found himself in, he managed to get into a good rhythm and eventually won. Ideally, he would have raced in midfield, but things worked out well. I might worry about him if it's wet, but the long home straight at Chukyo looks as if it will suit him." Mirco Demuro is expected to ride Seraphic Call, and as well as being a two-time winner of the race, he's also looking for his first JRA Grade 1 win since Circle of Life in 2021.

Crown Pride: The 4-year-old son of Reach the Crown has become quite a world traveler, and his latest foray overseas saw him pull off an easy win in the Grade 3 Korea Cup in Seoul in September. He also finished second in last year's Champions Cup, so everything points to him having a good chance in the big race again this Sunday. An assistant trainer for Koichi Shintani said: "On his return from Korea, he was a bit tired, so we decided to skip the JBC and wait for him to fully recover, and then this became his next target race. He really won well in Korea and coped with the heat at the time, and now it's cooler, he's in good shape again."

T O Keynes: Winner of the race in 2021, and fourth to Jun Light Bolt last year, T O Keynes might be lacking a recent win, but he continues to run strong races and would have every chance again in this week's race. Assistant trainer Yuichi Tomomichi said: "He's been running well, and last time he got a good position in the race, which is what is best for him. It was probably because of the ground that he didn't get such a good result, as the surface at Oi isn't the most suitable for him. He's a horse that likes a fast pace."

Hagino Alegrias: Jockey Mirai Iwata has struck up a good partnership with the 6-year-old by Kizuna, and he made sure the horse won well last time over 2,000 meters in the Grade 3 Sirius Stakes at Hanshin in September. Trainer Hirofumi Shii is also pleased with the way the horse is coming along. "His run in the Teio Sho was good, and the jockey said he wanted him to run a strong race. He made his move early, and finishing fourth was a fair result, but it also set him up well for his next race in the Sirius Stakes. He won that well and we can now look to this race with him," Shii commented. Hagino Alegrias gave the trainer his first graded race win with that effort, and perhaps a Grade 1 victory is in reach for the jockey, trainer and the horse.

Meisho Hario: A model of consistency, Meisho Hario won the Teio Sho two starts ago, and was fourth most recently in the JBC Classic at Oi over 2,000 meters. Earlier this year, he also finished third to Lemon Pop in the Grade 1 February Stakes, so he's another worthy of his place in the line-up on Sunday. An assistant to trainer Inao Okada said: "He's coming along as we would expect. He was returning after a spell last time, and he looked a bit dull in the paddock, consequently he didn't run to his best in that race. The new sand surface (at Oi) might have been a reason too. He's the type to improve for a race, so he should be better this time."

Gloria Mundi: The 5-year-old by King Kamehameha boasts a good strike rate, with seven wins and four seconds from his 18 starts. His last race was the Korea Cup, where he was well beaten by Crown Pride, but he has a good record at the Chukyo track and will be in good hands, with Christophe Lemaire expected to take the ride. Assistant trainer Tatsuo Taniguchi said: "He seemed a little slow in recent track work, but he was working with Deep Bond. He didn't get a good result in last year's Champions Cup, but since coming back from Korea, he's been at the farm, and on his return to the stable, things are fine with him and he's in good condition."

Notturno: The 4-year-old colt by Heart's Cry has mostly taken on the big NAR races this year, and is coming off a second-place finish in the JBC Classic at Oi in November. Assistant trainer Masanari Tanaka said: "He couldn't get close to the winner last time, but he fought on well at the finish to take second. It was good to see him run well and get a result after quite a while. He has run in a JRA Grade 1 race before, so hopefully he can carry over his present form to this next race.
Japan Racing Association

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