Capri in major challenge to become second Irish-trained winner of Japan Cup

Gordon Elliott has 12 starters in Troytown drive for five in a row at Navan

Capri during a workout at Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle Stables, Cashel, Co Tipperary. Ryan Moore will break from stall 12 of the 14 runners on Capri in Toyko. Photograph: Inpho

Capri during a workout at Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle Stables, Cashel, Co Tipperary. Ryan Moore will break from stall 12 of the 14 runners on Capri in Toyko. Photograph: Inpho

 

Aidan O’Brien’s 2017 Irish Derby and English Leger hero Capri bids to become a “Lucky 13th” Irish-trained runner in Sunday morning’s hugely prestigious Japan Cup in Tokyo.

It is 35 years since Stanerra landed Japanese racing’s most coveted prize and her’s has been a singular success among the dozen Irish runners to have lined up to date in the famous race’s 37-year history.

O’Brien’s three previous runners – Powerscourt (2004,) Joshua Tree (2010) and Idaho a year ago – all failed to make the frame. There was a much worse outcome for Jim Bolger’s Irish Derby hero Trading Leather who sustained fatal injuries in the 2014 renewal.

Alkassed in 2005 was the last of a dozen overseas winners so Capri and Britain’s Thundering Blue, the two foreign horses lining up in front of an almost 200,000 racecourse attendance at 6.40am Sunday, face a major task.

O’Brien is looking for a Group One victory in a 10th different country but Ryan Moore won the mile-and-a-half highlight in 2013 on Gentildonna.

The English rider will break from stall 12 of the 14 runners on Capri who is a 10-1 shot in an ante-post market dominated by local Triple Crown winning three year old filly, Almond Eye.

Ground conditions at the vast track 15 miles west of the centre of Tokyo are expected to be fast. However Moore doesn’t expect that to be a problem.

“When he won the Irish Derby it was actually quick. The Tokyo track is very fast but it’s flat and stable,” he told local media. “He’s coming here freshened up and he’s moving well so I think he’ll be fine.”

Moore added: “When he won the Irish Derby he beat Cracksman, Wings Of Eagles and Waldgeist who are all Group one winners. He needs to come back to that to be involved against some high class horses.”

Some hours later on Sunday the going won’t be quite as fast in Navan as Japan although it will still be unseasonably quick for the final weekend action of November.

Over an inch of midweek rain only turned the Navan ground “good” with a dry forecast likely to speed things up even more for the jumpers.

They’re the sort of conditions that saw Samcro’s Morgiana defection last weekend and they look to have affected Sunday’s Grade Three Monksfield Novice Hurdle, ensuring the focus will largely be on  the Ladbrokes Troytown Chase.

Gordon Elliott is pursuing a five in a row in the prestigious €100,000 handicap and this “drive for five” sees the top trainer cramming 12 runners into the final 25. That’s one more than when Empire Of Dirt won the Troytown for Elliott in 2016 and just one less than the 13 runners he saddled in last Easter’s Irish Grand National.

The winner of that race, General Principle, returns to action with Keith Donoghue on board while Minella Beau is Willie Mullins’s sole representative although the champion trainer also has the second reserve, Undressed.

It sounds unlikely for the time of year but plenty of this Troytown field might appreciate a little bit of watering. Significantly though Jessica Harrington’s mare Magic Of Light probably isn’t one of them. The Punchestown festival’s winner ground adaptability could prove crucial at a decent price.

Gypsy Island has a first start for new owner JP McManus in an earlier mares maiden hurdle but stock by her sire Jeremy famously like a little cut. Whatucallher might take advantage of that while Paloma Blue’s debut over fences will be eagerly anticipated at Navan.

Elliott has 26 declarations in all for Navan and nine at Gowran on Saturday. He also sends the veteran Folsom Blue to Haydock for a hurdle on Betfair Chase day.

The significance of ground crucially on the soft side of good could get stamped all over Haydock’s big prize in which last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup one-two, Native River and Might Bite, renew rivalry.

With last year’s winner Bristol De Mai and Native River’s former King George winning stable companion Thistlecrack also among the small but select handful of runners, it looks a race savour.

The current King George holder Might Bite was a gallant runner in his epic Gold Cup head to head with Native River and proved his resilience with a fine win at Aintree afterwards.

“I thought his Aintree win was his best run last season because he was coming back from a very hard battle at Cheltenham,” his trainer Nicky Henderson reported. “This is obviously a completely different race on different ground, but taking on Native River is what’s good for racing and it will be a proper race, that’s for sure,” he added.

Saturday’s Gowran card has a rare 11.35 morning start and it could be worth making the effort to get there early to see the Irish debut of Henry De Bromhead’s talented French recruit Tiger Voice.

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