11/26/2010 2:54PM

Nakayama Festa and Buena Vista tower over Japan Cup foes

Michael Burns
Joshua Tree wins the Grade 1 Canadian International at Woodbine. But he'll have his hands full with Nakayama Festa and Buena Vista in the Japan Cup.

Nakayama Festa and Buena Vista will duke it out in the $5.7 million Japan Cup at Tokyo Racecourse on Sunday as the two leading Japanese horses continue their battle for supremacy there.

Eight foreign raiders will be among the 18 runners in the 1 1/2-mile Grade 1 on turf, but unless Canadian International winner Joshua Tree continues his improvement, it is difficult to see any of them cracking the big two. Trained by Aidan O’Brien, Joshua Tree, who won the one-mile, Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes as a 2-year-old, will be making just the seventh start of his career and could yet prove to be a first-class international performer. In Nakayama Festa and Buena Vista, however, he will be facing two proven international competitors who will prove very difficult to beat on their home turf.

Nakayama Festa is coming off an excellent head second to Workforce in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. He is trained by Yoshitaka Ninomiya and will be ridden by Masayoshi Ebina, the same team that produced El Condor Pasa to finish second in the 1999 Arc behind Joshua Tree’s sire, Montjeu. El Condor Pasa had won the previous year’s Japan Cup, and Nakayama Festa is taken to add his name to the list of Japan Cup winners. He beat Buena Vista by a half-length into second in the 1 3/8-mile, Grade 1 Takarazuka Kinen on June 27 and has bounced back quickly from his Arc exertions.

The highly popular Buena Vista is the likely favorite, however. She is coming off an impressive two-length victory over males in the 1 1/4-mile, Grade 1 Autumn Tenno Sho at Tokyo on Oct. 31. That was her first race since the Takarazuka Kinen, in which she was ridden for the first time by Christophe Soumillon, who will be on board again on Sunday, when she will break wide from post 16.

Last year’s Japanese St. Leger winner Oken Bruce Lee is capable of an upset. Second to Vodka in last year’s Japan Cup, he returned from a 10 1/2-month layoff to finish second in the 1 1/2-mile, Grade 2 Kyoto Daishoten behind Meisho Beluga, who was recently four lengths second to Snow Fairy in the 1 1/4-mile, Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup. Meisho Beluga and Oken Bruce Lee meet again on Sunday.

The first three in the Japanese Derby – Eishin Flash, Rose Kingdom and Victoire Pisa –are all consistent types, especially the King Kamahameha-Sunday Silence cross Rose Kingdom, who was recently second in the Japanese St. Leger.

The two leading French hopefuls drew poorly on the wide outside. Grand Prix de Deauville winner and Arc sixth Marinous will break from post 17, while Prix Dollar winner Cirrus des Aigles is stuck in 18. The Ian Black-trained Canadian longshot Fifty Proof didn’t draw much better in 15, from where Justin Stein will have his work cut out for him aboard the Canadian International fifth-place finisher.