11/24/2011 1:55PM

Japan Cup: Yoshida duo back with something to prove

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TOKYO – The walk to the winner’s enclosure after the 2010 Japan Cup was the strangest trek of its kind for horse owner Shunsuke Yoshida.

His Sunday Racing Co. partnership had finished one-two with Buena Vista and Rose Kingdom, only for Buena Vista, the 9-10 favorite, to be disqualified and placed second behind her 7-1 stablemate for causing interference in the stretch.

Never had winning such an important race felt so much like losing to Yoshida.

“It was a difficult feeling for me,” said Yoshida, 36, the president of the Sunday Racing Co. “At first, I didn’t think she should be disqualified. We had her, and we had the other horse, as well.”

Redemption for either horse could come Sunday at Tokyo Racecourse. Buena Vista and Rose Kingdom are back in the Japan Cup, which drew a field of 18. Each has something to prove.

Buena Vista, a 5-year-old mare by the Sunday Silence stallion Special Week, is winless in four starts this year and has yet to duplicate the form that made her Japan’s champion 2-year-old filly of 2009 and 3-year-old filly of 2009.

Rose Kingdom, by the Kingmambo stallion King Kamehameha, has one victory in six starts this year, a 1 1/4-length win in a Grade 2 race over 1 1/2 miles at Kyoto on Oct. 9. A win Sunday would make him the first repeat winner of the Japan Cup in the 31-year history of the race.

Buena Vista and Rose Kingdom finished fourth and 10th in the Group 1 Tenno Sho Autumn Stakes, or Emperor’s Cup, over about 1 1/4 miles at Tokyo on Oct. 30. For Buena Vista, the loss by 1 3/4 lengths to Japan Cup entrant Tosen Jordan was the worst performance of her 21-race career in Japan. The only other time she has finished outside of the first three was an eighth in the Dubai World Cup last March behind Japan Cup entrant Victoire Pisa.

In 2010, Buena Vista won the Tenno Sho Autumn Stakes, but her performance on Oct. 30 left Yoshida with mixed impressions.

“Our trainer thinks she has done well,” Yoshida said in reference to Hiroyoshi Matsuda. “I was kind of disappointed. She wasn’t in top form last time out. She was inside in the late stretch. She tried hard to finish.”

Earlier this week, Matsuda said Buena Vista’s fitness has improved since the Tenno Sho.

“She is dramatically better than in her last run,” he said. “She had been lean for that race, but she was still soft. Still, to have run as she did under those conditions is quite a feat.”

Despite the recent loss, Buena Vista will be well-backed in Sunday. With eight wins in 21 starts and earnings of more than $13.7 million, she has a massive following. Her backers are expected to line the paddock Sunday with signs and banners supporting the mare.

Sunday’s Japan Cup will be Buena Vista’s seventh career start at Tokyo Racecourse. She has won three races at this track and finished first four times if the 2010 Japan Cup is included on that list.

“I’m hoping for this to be different,” Yoshida said. “She tries so hard. I believe she has the ability to win the race.”

Yoshida said he is hoping the Japan Cup distance will suit Rose Kingdom, a 4-year-old colt who has earned $8.1 million his 15-race career for trainer Kojiro Hashiguchi.

“If he’s in good shape, I think he has a good chance,” Yoshida said. “He’s better at a mile and a half.”

It has already been a huge year for Sunday Racing, which owns the Japanese Triple Crown winner Orfevre. He is expected to make his final start of 2011 in the Arima Kinen Stakes at Tokyo next month.

More immediately, a win Sunday by either Buena Vista or Rose Kingdom would give the partnership a place in racing history.

For Buena Vista, it would cap a remarkable career and set off a raucous celebration by a crowd expected to crack six figures. A win by Rose Kingdom would prove that he belongs among the greatest Japan Cup winners in history.