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2023 Japan Cup: Race History

3 minute read

Every year the Japan Cup run at Tokyo on Sunday is a superb contest for huge prizemoney.

VELA AZUL winning the Japan Cup at Tokyo in Japan.
VELA AZUL winning the Japan Cup at Tokyo in Japan. Picture: Japan Racing Association

Almond Eye was a famous dual winner. What does the 2023 Japan Cup (2400m) at Tokyo on Sunday have in store?


The Japan Cup is a Grade 1 race run under Weight For Age conditions for open class stayers at Tokyo racecourse conducted by the Japan Racing Association.

The Japan Cup is run over 2400m. It was first run in 1981 and was won by Mairzy Doates.

It is an invitational race for horses all around the world. Restricted initially to only Japan, USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and India, it was quickly opened up.

The Japan Cup was worth JPY1,080,000,000 in 2023 plus bonuses awarded for certain international race winners.

Tokyo racecourse is a left handed course with the mile and a half start in the home straight. There is some undulation on the track but home running is relatively flat.

The 2002 Japan Cup was run at Nakayama over 2200m.

Gentildonna was the only horse to win two Japan Cups before Almond Eye. Buena Vista won in 2010 but lost on protest. She would get revenge 12 months later.

Numerous countries have trained the winner of the Japan Cup. USA, Ireland, Britain, France, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Italy and of course Japan have all tasted success.

Three year olds have won the race seven times.

The most successful jockey is Yutaka Take who has four wins on TM Opera O, Deep Impact, Rose Kingdom and Kitasan Black. Next with three are Frankie Dettori, Yasunari Iawata and Christophe Lemaire.

Several famous trainers have two wins including Sir Michael Stoute.

In consecutive years, Australasia had two grand stayers win the Japan Cup.

Horlicks was a top kiwi mare who won G1s at home and in Australia. She won the Mackinnon then went to Tokyo where she won in 1989. She was left in front a long way from home but held on in a world record time of 2.22.20.

A year later, in front of a crowd 164,000 deep, Better Loosen Up was so brave for Michael Clarke and David Hayes. Another Aussie in the race, Stylish Century, led early.

Coming to the turn Better Loosen Up was midfield but ten lengths off the front. Clarke made his move at the turn but Cacoethes to his inside and Ode out wider were in for the fight. He drove through the centre and once in a battle, Better Loosen Up rarely lost them. His win was one to savour.

After him others tried and ran top races. Shaftesbury Avenue placed in 1991 for Bart Cummings and then twelve months on, Lee Freedman's Naturalism overcame some terrible hoof issues to be beaten a head into second. Let's Elope was also in that race.

Australia's leading jockey Hugh Bowman continued his amazing 2017 season by taking the Japan Cup on Cheval Grand.

A brilliant Japanese filly Almond Eye etched her name into history winning a great race in 2018 and running an incredible time of 2:20.60 for the mile and a half. She won again in 2020 to end her wonderful career as a record breaker and an all-time great defeating two other Triple Crown winners.

A year later Contrail improved one spot to end his stellar career with a superb win in 2021. Deep Impact again had an impact on the race siring the winner.

The 2019 edition was actually run as a memorial to the legendary sire Deep Impact who also won the race in 2006. On a wet track it was won by Suave Richard for Oisin Murphy.

Notable winners of the Japan Cup include Contrail (2021), Almond Eye (2018/2020), Kitasan Black (2016), Gentildonna (2012/2013), Buena Vista (2011), Vodka (2009), Deep Impact (2006), Zenno Rob Roy (2004), Falbrav (2002), Pilsudski (1997), Singspiel (1996), Better Loosen Up (1990), Horlicks (1989) and Le Glorieux (1987).

The 2022 Japan Cup was won by Vela Azul from Shahryar and Weltreisende.

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