Updated on 09/17/2011 10:46PM

Four Americans make long trip


Hollywood Gold Cup winner Lava Man touched down safely in Japan on Wednesday morning en route to Tokyo Racecourse for the $2 million Japan Cup Dirt on Nov. 26. He was followed some 24 hours later by his fellow Japan Cup Dirt challenger Tap Day, as well as Better Talk Now and King's Drama, who will go in the $4 million Japan Cup on Nov. 27.

A one-time maiden claimer who has blossomed into a Grade 1-winning millionaire, Lava Man was whisked from Tokyo's Narita International Airport to the Japan Racing Association's Shiroi Quarantine Center, where he will remain until Monday before shipping 40 miles to Tokyo Racecourse, the site of the 1 5/16-mile Japan Cup Dirt. Tap Day, Better Talk Now, and King's Drama departed from JFK International Airport early Wednesday morning.

Trainer Doug O'Neill is bullish about Lava Man's chances in the Japan Cup Dirt, where, in addition to Tap Day, he will be facing the best of Japan's dirt runners, including Personal Rush, sixth in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic; Adjudi Mitsuo, sixth in the Dubai World Cup; and Time Paradox, a multiple Grade 1 winner. There is also the British invader Eccentric, a seven-time winner on Lingfield's Fibre-Sand track.

"I would draw a line through his run in the Jockey Club Gold Cup," O'Neill said of Lava Man's distant seventh-place finish behind Borrego on Oct. 1. "We only shipped him to Belmont from Hollywood two days before, and he had to go through three barns from arrival until the race. He will be in Japan 10 days before he runs and I think he has a big chance. He loves the distance."

Corey Nakatani, who will ride Lava Man for the first time, worked him six furlongs in a bullet 1:12.20 at Hollywood last Saturday, O'Neill said.

Tap Day, the much-improved winner of the Meadowlands Cup in his last start on Oct. 7, will have the services of regular rider Eibar Coa in the Japan Cup Dirt. Trainer Mark Hennig, who saddled Star of Cozzene to finish fifth in the 1993 Japan Cup, found the key to the 4-year-old Tap Day only this past summer.

"We're optimistic since we learned that he needs time between races," Hennig said. "The timing of this race is perfect, but of course you can never tell how a horse will acclimate after that kind of shipping," a reference to the 6,726-mile New York-to-Tokyo journey.

Graham Motion has Better Talk Now in the world's richest turf race, the 1 1/2-mile Japan Cup. "We had originally planned to send him to last year's Japan Cup as there was a bonus available for the Breeders' Cup Turf winner," Motion said, "but it proved too difficult to get him to Japan from Texas. I think he moved too soon in this year's Turf. The long 2 1/2-furlong stretch at Tokyo is really going to help."

The winner of two Grade 1 races this year, Better Talk Now will be ridden by Ramon Dominguez.

King's Drama prepped perfectly for his Japanese assignment with a handy weight-giving victory in last weekend's Red Smith Handicap at Aqueduct. King's Drama will be trainer Bobby Frankel's 11th runner in a race he won with Pay the Butler in 1988. Although Japan's undefeated Triple Crown winner Deep Impact is bypassing the race in favor of the Arima Kinen on Dec. 25, King's Drama must still contend with defending champ Zenno Rob Roy as well as European raiders Ouija Board, Bago, Alkaased, and Warrsan.