10/13/2010 2:40PM

Espoir City gives Japan its best Breeders' Cup shot

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Japan Racing Association
Espoir City wins the Japan Cup Dirt last December. He has been pointing to the Breeders' Cup Classic all year.

There has been little Japanese participation in the Breeders’ Cup over the years, just four starters in all, the last two being Casino Drive, 12th and last in the 2008 Classic at Santa Anita won by Raven's Pass, and Personal Rush, who finished sixth of 13 as a 25-1 shot in the Classic won by Ghostzapper in 2004 at Lone Star Park. But Japan will be well represented this year with a horse who is unquestionably that country’s best runner sent here thus far for the Breeders’ Cup, Espoir City.

Despite a loss in his final prep Monday, he remains on course to challenge the likes of Horse of the Year candidates Zenyatta, Blame, Quality Road, and Lookin At Lucky in the BC Classic on Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs.

Espoir City, 5, scored the biggest win of his career last December in the Japan Cup Dirt. He has won 11 of 20 lifetime, but is clearly superior on dirt, over which he is 10 for 13. Espoir City has been pointed to the Classic all year. His connections made a scouting trip to Churchill Downs earlier this year, and Espoir City was purposely given the summer off from racing in order to be at his peak in the fall.

On Monday, in the Nambu Hai Mile Championship – his first start in five months – Espoir City finished second of 12, beaten three lengths by Oro Meister, who completed the mile in 1:34.80. But the comments by those closest to Espoir City indicate Monday’s race was strictly a prep, from which he is expected to move forward at the Classic’s 1 1/4-mile distance.

“We have been training him looking ahead to the next big race,” said his trainer, Akio Adachi, a former jockey, in comments provided by Nobu Furuta, the administrative manager of Japan Racing Association’s New York-area office, which is in Stamford, Conn.

Tetsuzo Sato, his jockey, said he purposely did not to go the lead, even though Espoir City normally heads to the front, because he will be going farther in the Classic.

“We were boxed in this race,” Sato said. “But considering the distance of our next race, I thought it was not a good idea to lead. In addition to that, I would like to let him run with small and quick stride, instead of big stride, because he is going to run with spiked shoes in USA.”

Espoir City is based with Adachi at the Ritto training center, which is near Kyoto. But after the race on Monday, Espoir City was sent to Japan’s other large training facility, Miho, which is nearer to Tokyo and where he began his Japanese-required quarantine Tuesday.

Espoir City is scheduled to fly from Tokyo to Chicago next Monday, then will immediately take a second flight to Louisville and arrive at Churchill Downs next Tuesday morning, according to Mikki Tsuge, a Pasadena, Calif.-based horsewoman who will be the liaison for Espoir City’s connections upon his arrival.

“He is doing his usual training routine while in quarantine at Miho,” Tsuge said earlier this week. “He will be traveling with another horse, but it’s just a companion, another horse tagging along for company, but that horse won’t be racing.”

Espoir City will be in quarantine at Churchill Downs for 48 hours while his blood is analyzed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, standard procedure for all imported racehorses. According to Tsuge, “the plan is to work him once before the race” at Churchill Downs.

Espoir City is by the sire Gold Allure, a son of Sunday Silence, who won the 1989 BC Classic and became a world-class stallion in Japan.

There is great expense involved in this endeavor, well above the transportation. Espoir City is not nominated to the Breeders’ Cup, so he would need to be supplemented to the Classic for 9 percent of the race’s $5 million purse, which comes to $450,000.

But, according to Jim Gluckson, a Breeders’ Cup publicist, Espoir City could get in cheaper if he is made eligible to the Breeders’ Cup by pre-entry day Oct. 25 for $100,000, the fee for a horse of racing age. In addition to that fee, there is another $150,000 in entry fees – which all starters are required to pay – bringing his discounted total to $250,000.