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Mairzy Doates Recalls Yanks in Japan Cup
On Sunday the Japan Racing Association will celebrate the 30th running of the Japan Cup at Tokyo Racecourse by commemorating the first winner of the event in 1981. That was the 5-year-old mare Mairzy Doates, who led home a parade of North America-trained horses. She was ridden by Cash Asmussen, who is in Tokyo this week to make the award presentation to the winning connections on Sunday.
Owned by Arno Scheffler, Mairzy Doates was saddled that day by John Fulton but had been trained for most of her career by the legendary Argentine conditioner Horatio Luro. The next two finishers both hailed from North America with the Canadian-trained Frost King a length behind and the Steve Dimauro-trained The Very One third, another 1 1/2 lengths back. While American horses were not quite dominant in the early years of the Japan Cup, they had more than a big say in the race through the 1994 running when Paradise Creek finished second in the 1 1/2-mile Grade 1 turf test.
Mairzy Doates had already won the Yerba Buena Handicap, the La Prevoyante Handicap, the Matchmaker Handicap and the New York Handicap and been third in the Sheepshead Bay Handicap while running against the likes of Love Sign and Rokeby Rose. The Japan Cup was a significant step up in class for the daughter of Nodouble but she handled it with aplomb to carve her name into the history books.
A year later Stanley Hough-trained Half Iced scored an extraordinary 31.30-1 triumph over a pair of excellent French distaffers. A necks econd was All Along, the 3-year-old filly who would win the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, the Turf Classic, the Rothmans International (now known as the Canadian International) and the Washington, D.C. International the following year, thus earning herself the Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year. Another neck back in third in 1982 was the Asmussen-ridden April Run, who had won the her second Turf Classic earlier that fall, as well as the Washington, D.C. International, an achievement that landed her the Eclipse Award as best filly or mare on turf. Further down the field in the 1982 Japan Cup was the legendary John Henry in thirteenth.
Half Iced would return to Japan to defend his title in 1983 but could only manage third behind the Irish-trained Stanerra, beaten less than three quarters of a length for all the money.
It was a different game in America in those days, a time when American horses could compete with the best in the world going 12 furlongs on turf. The double American craze for speed and medication would soon begin to erode home grown talent at distances longer than 10 furlongs, but not before we grabbed three more Japan Cup titles.
A brief history of the best American performances since 1983 in what is now the second richest race in the world follows.
1984 The home team took its first Japan Cup title as Katsuragi Ace beat the Dick Hern-trained British invader and 9-2 favorite Bedtime by 1 1/2 lengths.Majesty's Prince, who had won the Man o' War, the Rothmans International and the Sword Dancer earlier in the year, was sent off as the 4.70-1 second choice, but his patented late run fell short as he came home fourth, just a head behind Bedtime.The New York-bred Win was 2 lengths further back in fifth. The great Australian horse Strawberry Road, who would end his career with Group 1 victories in his native land as well as in France and Germany, finished seventh.
1987 Victory went to the Robert Collet-trained Le Glorieux, who was fresh from winning the Washington, D.C International. The 3-year-old son of Cure the Blues prevailed by three quarters of a length over the Dimauro-trained Southjet, who was sent off at 55.30-1 under Jean-Luc Samyn. Back in fourth was the great racemare and 9-10 favorite Triptych with the previous year's St. Leger winner Moon Madness sixth.
1988 The Bobby Frankel-trained Pay the Butler was sent off as a 13.90-1 dark horse but got the job done under Chris McCarron as he beat the 2.20-1 Japanese favorite Tamamo Cross by a half-length. Further back was that year's Arc winner, the 2.90-1 Tony Bin, who was headed for fourth by the Shug McGaughey-trained My Big Boy.
1989 Pay the Butler returned to defend his title but was beaten into third at 7.60-1 by the New Zealand raider Horlicks as the Ron McAnally-trained Hawkster was fifth with surprise Arc winner Carroll House well beaten in fourteenth.
1991 The 17.20-1 Charlie Whittingham-trained Golden Pheasant scored an American surprise in beating Arc runner-up Magic Night by a length-and-a-half as the local backers saw their 9-10 favorite Mejiro McQueen finish fourth. Golden Pheasant had only been seventh in the 1 1/4-mile D.C. International in his previous start, but had shown a liking for 1 1/2 miles when landing the Group 2 Prix Niel a year earlier at Longchamp when trained by Jonathan Pease. Golden Pheasant is the most recent American-trained Japan Cup winner.
1993 Like Golden Pheasant, Kotashaan was an ex-French-trained horse. Unlike Golden Pheasant he was warmly regarded by the Japanese bettors as they sent him off as the 4.20-1 favorite on the basis of his Breeders' Cup Turf victory three weeks earlier. Trained by Dick Mandella, he had to settle for second behind Legacy World, at 11.50-1, the best bet of the seven Japanese runners. The Arc winning filly Urban Sea had to settle for seventh with Breeders' Cup Turf runner-up Luazur tenth.
1994 D.C. International and Arlington Million winner Paradise Creek was sent off as the 4-1 second choice behind the 7-2 mile-and-a-half Oak Tree winner Sandpit in what looked very much like an all-American affair at post time. But the Bill Mott-trained Paradise Creek was nosed out by Marvelous Crown as the Mandella-trained Sandpit finished fifth.
1995 & 1996 The Dave Donk-trained Awad put in a couple of fine performances, finishing third behind Lando and Hernando in 1995 and fifth behind Singspiel a year later.
1998 Canada's Chief Bearhart, second in the Candian International and fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf was a game fourth behind the Japanese-trained Arc runner-up El Condor Pasa, finishing just ahead of the Tom Skiffington-trained Maxzene, who was ridden by Cash Asmussen.
American fortunes in the Japan Cup have floundered since then, with only the luckless Sarafan cracking the first seven. The Neil Drysdale trainee finished a controversial nose second to Falbrav in 2002 in a 1 3/8-mile edition of the race run at Nakayama while a new grandstand was being built at Tokyo. The two of them engaged in a furious bumping match through much of the stretch, but the stewards let the order of finish stand. A year later Sarafan returned in hope of better luck, but could manage only a seventeenth-place finish behind Tap Dance City.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for any foreign-trained horse to win the Japan Cup of late. Ten of the last twelve winners have been Japanese trainees, among them famous names like El Condor Pasa; all-time leading Thoroughbred earner T M Opera O; Deep Impact, the horse widely regarded as the best Japan has ever produced; and the superb racemare Vodka.
The only two foreigners to break the Japanese ranks since 1997 were both ridden by Frankie Dettori. They are the infamous 2002 winner Falbrav and the 2005 laureate Alkaased.
This year, Nakayama Festa looks very much in the mold of 1998 winner El Condor Pasa, both having finished second in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. And the 4-year-old filly Buena Vista bears a formwise resemblance to last year's winner Vodka. The race might well boil down to the two of them unless the Aidan O'Brien-trained Canadian International winner Joshua Tree can show further improvement.
Sadly, there will not be an American-trained horse in this year's race, but Fifty Proof will be saddled for Canada by Ian Black after his fifth-place finish in the Canadian International. He is likely to go off at about 100-1, so he might be worth a bet of a couple of hundred yen or so, but don't hold your breath in anticipation.
While the preparation for the first running of the Japan Cup was extremely methodical, international racing was scarce and horses had never been shipped around the world before and with a refueling in Anchorage , Alaska. The race also followed the then cluster of grade I's, including the Arc, Canadian Championship, Man o War and United Nations. Quarantine time was compulsory on both ends of the ship. It was Japan's first open race in their history. However, the preliminary preparations paid off and a handful of courageous trainers agreed to make the ship and with fillies too. We were delighted to participate in the detailed, preliminary, preparation in consultation with the Japanese on both sides of the Pacific and to utilize NYRA's facilities for quarantine and solicitation. It was a pioneering time in horse racing and proved extremely rewarding for the betterment of the sport! It was a proud day for Japan and their efforts to join the international fray of competition!
I was very disappointed that America didn't send a horse or two over for this race. But then again, the US really doesn't go all out for international races the way the rest of the racing world does. Either we know our turf horses are not as good as the rest of the world, or we are content with the races we have at home. Either way, it is disappointing.
That was a heck of a walk down memory lane. What have we done to ourselves that we can't send a decent representative or two overseas once in a while? Twenty, thirty years ago you wouldn't find me anywhere on a Saturday afternoon but at Belmont Park. These days it's barely recognizable as the same game anymore. Still, when I look around some in the horse business are making plenty of cash while at the same time the sport is pouring itself down the drain. Shortsightedness? Selfishness? Greed? Government interference? I don't know, but thanks for the memories, it's fun to reflect back on the great horses we've been treated to over the decades.