11/25/2011 11:59AM

Japan Cup: Locally based runners have good chance to extend streak

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Neville Hopwood
Victoire Pisa, shown in Dubai last March, comes into Sunday's Japan Cup without having raced since his World Cup win.

TOKYO – The winner’s trophy for the Japan Cup has not left these shores in six years, since Alkaased won the 2005 running for British trainer Luca Cumani.

That time frame is the longest drought for foreign-based runners in the 30-year history of the race, which includes 14 foreign winners and 16 from the home team.

This year, there are 12 Japan-based runners in the field of 16 for Sunday’s 1 1/2-mile turf race, and several of them are capable of extending the streak of domestic success. The group includes reigning Dubai World Cup winner Victoire Pisa, defending Japan Cup winner Rose Kingdom, the star mare Buena Vista, and up-and-coming horses such as the 3-year-old Win Variation and the 4-year-old Pelusa.

They will be opposed by a quartet of foreigners that consists of the first two finishers of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Oct. 2 – Danedream and Shareta; Canadian International winner Sarah Lynx; and one American starter, Manhattan Handicap winner Mission Approved.

Buena Vista, finished first in the 2010 Japan Cup but was disqualified and placed second for interfering with Rose Kingdom in the stretch. She may go favored over Danedream on Sunday. Buena Vista is winless in four starts this year, including a fourth in the Group 1 Tenno Sho Autumn at Tokyo on Oct. 30. Tosen Jordan and Pelusa, who were first and third in that field, are also in the Japan Cup.

For Buena Vista, the Tenno Sho Autumn was her first start since late June, and a loss that was not helped by traffic problems in the stretch, according to trainer Hiroyoshi Matsuda.

“In the Tenno Sho straight the inside was open and then it closed up right before the finish,” he said. “That’s racing. I think to have finished fourth under those conditions was pretty good. She put in a good race. Since then, we’ve given her a lot of work and she’s handled it well.”

Victoire Pisa, third in the 2010 Japan Cup, has not started since the Dubai World Cup. The layoff has left jockey Mirco Demuro cautious about Victoire Pisa’s chances on Sunday. “He’s the kind of horse that doesn’t give 100 percent in training,” Demuro said. “So in work this week, I don’t know really how much he gave me.

“But he is in good shape. The competition is tough and if he doesn’t give it his all, he’s not going to be able to win.”

Rose Kingdom was beaten 1 3/4 lengths in the 2010 Japan Cup. This year, Rose Kingdom has managed just one win in six starts, a Group 2 at Kyoto on Oct. 9. In the Tenno Sho, Rose Kingdom was 10th in a field of 18.

The key for Sunday’s race is for Rose Kingdom to rate behind expected pacesetters such as Tosen Jordan and Mission Approved.

“He didn’t quick as well as he could have but I think that a result of [him] getting caught up in the high pace,” trainer Kojiro Haskiguchi said of the Tenno Sho. “At the very least we want a fast track.”

The turf course is expected to firm this weekend. No rain is expected before race day, and temperatures have been in the high 50s under clear skies in recent days. Post time for the Japan Cup is 1:20 a.m, Eastern on Sunday.

While not as well known internationally, Win Variation and Pelusa are well-regarded among Japanese observers.

Win Variation won a Group 2 stakes over 1 1/2 miles here in April and was later second in the Japanese Derby and Japanese St. Leger to Triple Crown winner Orfevre.

“He has been up against one huge standout horse, but he does have the power to take a big title himself,” trainer Mikio Matsunaga said. “He’ll be up against older horses this time. We’ll just have to see how well he rates against them.”

The one name that has popped up in pre-race conversations consistently in recent days is Pelusa, the 4-year-old colt by 2004 Japan Cup winner Zenno Rob Roy. Pelusa finished a length behind Tosen Jordan in the Tenno Sho, and was clocked in 33.9 seconds for the final three furlongs of that race. He doesn’t win very often. Pelusa is winless in eight starts since a Group 2 over 1 1/2 miles on turf at Tokyo in May 2010.

Pelusa displayed poor habits at the gate in 2010 and early this year, but was better behaved in the Tenno Sho.

“He has muscled up well as he has matured, and I think he has come along quite well,” trainer Kazuo Fujisawa said. “Last year, he was applauded just for making the break well, but he won’t get the same applause for doing the same this year. I’ll try to do my best to see that he gets a round of applause for being out in front in the stretch.”