11/28/2008 1:00AM

Marsh Side faces three Japanese Derby winners


Marsh Side faces a monumental task in the $5 million Japan Cup at Tokyo Racecourse on Sunday when the Neil Drysdale-trained winner of the Canadian International will be meeting three locally trained Japanese Derby winners in Deep Sky, Vodka, and Meisho Samson.

Drysdale was upbeat about the chances of Marsh Side, a 5-year-old son of Gone West, after he drew post 12 ("very good") in the field of 18, despite negative reports on the horse's health and the heavy rain that fell Thursday and Friday, leaving the turf course good to soft. With no further rain expected, the quick-drying track is expected to be firm on Sunday.

At a Thursday news conference, Drysdale revealed that Marsh Side had suffered from a fever for two days after arriving in Japan on Nov. 20, severely curtailing his training schedule.

"We left him alone until his blood and temperature had leveled off," Drysdale said. "That's why we didn't resume training until Thursday morning, his first gallop since arriving."

With that kind of preparation, Marsh Side has virtually no chance of winning this 1 1/2-mile Grade 1 turf contest against the strong home team and three British challengers. Javier Castellano will be in the irons.

Vodka will probably go off as the favorite. The popular 4-year-old filly became the first of her sex to win the Japanese Derby, or Tokyo Yushun, in 64 years when she landed the race in 2007. The Katsuhiko Sumii trainee then suffered through a seven-race losing streak until beating males again in the one-mile Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen in June. Last time she took the 1 1/4-mile Grade 1 Autumn Tenno Sho in the fast time of 1:57.20.

This year's Japanese Derby winner, Deep Sky, was just a neck behind in third that day. Trained by Mitsugi Kon, Deep Sky won the 1 1/2-mile Kobe Shimbun Hai in his previous race. Two for two lifetime at the Japan Cup distance, the Agnes Tachyon colt is the selection with Hirofumi Shii aboard.

Yutaka Take had his choice between Vodka, who will be ridden by her Yasuda Kinen partner Yasunari Iwata, and 2006 Japanese Derby winner Meisho Samson, and chose the latter. Take, however, was injured in a fall in the Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup on Nov. 16 and will be out of action until the end of the year. Mamoru Ishibashi takes over on Meisho Samson, who is returning to Japan after a 10th-place finish behind Zarkava in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Oct. 5.

Last year's Arima Kinen winner, Matsurida Gogh, is a big threat off his win in the 1 3/8-mile Sankei Sho All-Comers on Sept. 28, while Oken Bruce Lee, a close third behind Deep Sky in the Kobe Shimbun Hai, has since won the 1 7/8-mile Japanese St. Leger. Of the British raiders, Purple Moon, trained by Luca Cumani, is preferred to Breeders' Cup Marathon flop Sixties Icon and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes runner-up Papal Bull.