11/25/2005 12:00AM

Ouija Board heads competitive Japan Cup

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Ouija Board has been lightly raced.

TOKYO - Ouija Board, denied victory by Intercontinental in her try for a second successive Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf last month, can eke out a major international triumph in Tokyo in Sunday's $4 million , in which American hopes Better Talk Now and King's Drama promise to be two of the race's better betting values. The Japan Cup will be run at 1:20 a.m. Eastern on Sunday morning.

A preference for Ouija Board in this 1 1/2-mile Grade 1 turf event can be arrived at through an analysis of two factors: her freshness and a return to the saddle of her favorite partner, Kieren Fallon.

The Filly and Mare Turf was only Ouija Board's second outing in the last five months, meaning that she arrives in Tokyo with a freshness that not infrequently translates into victory in these late autumn international races. And with Fallon back in the saddle, Ouija Board will be reunited with the man who has ridden her four times previously and won each time, including the English Oaks, Irish Oaks, and last year's Filly-Mare Turf.

Moreover, Ouija Board, a British-bred daughter of Cape Cross, is returning to her best distance of 1 1/2 miles after having found the 1 1/4 miles of this year's Filly-Mare urf at Belmont a trip too short. Breaking from post 6 on Sunday, the Ed Dunlop trainee is perfectly spotted to take whatever position Fallon desires, most likely somewhere near the middle of the 18-runner field.

Ouija Board, however, is not a filly to be backed with impunity, as this Japan Cup field is a highly competitive one in which Better Talk Now or King's Drama could find the winner's circle if they are up to their best. Both will be sent off in Japan at relatively long prices, as the Japanese player is notorious for backing the local favorites, in this case Zenno Rob Roy and his recent Autumn Tenno Sho conqueror, Heavenly Romance.

Better Talk Now - who, like Ouija Board, should be no lower than 16-1 in Japan - would be no surprise. Graham Motion has coaxed three Grade 1 triumphs out of Better Talk Now, a Talkin Man gelding, since last October, and while he has never reproduced the effort that earned him the 2004 Breeder's Cup Turf, his victories this year in the United Nations and Man o' War stakes indicate that he is capable of competing with the world's best.

The softish ground at Belmont last time holds much of the blame for Better Talk Now's dull seventh in the Breeders' Cup Turf. Better Talk Now will find Tokyo's firm ground to his liking, and while he is a candidate for the first three, he and rider Ramon Dominguez face a stern task despite a very nice draw in post 7, between Ouija Board and the favored Zenno Rob Roy.

King's Drama won Saratoga's Sword Dancer Handicap, then was just a neck second to Better Talk Now in the Man o' War. King's Drama's recent victory in the Red Smith Handicap was what trainer Bobby Frankel was looking for, but it was had at the expense of a weak field. Having had the misfortune to draw post 15, King's Drama, a 5-year-old by King's Theatre, must run the race of his life at something like 40-1 to gain the top spot under Edgar Prado.

Defending champ Zenno Rob Roy is being reunited with Kent Desormeaux, who rode him to third behind the filly Sweep Tosho in the Takarazuka Kinen in June. A Kazuo Fujisawa-trained son of Sunday Silence, Zenno Rob Roy was a neck second to Electrocutionist in the Juddmonte International at York in August. He will be attempting to do what no horse has ever done in the 25 previous runnings of the Japan Cup, namely to win it twice in a row. It is only a possibility that he is up to it.

Heavenly Romance, a 5-year-old Sunday Silence mare who beat Zenno Rob Roy in the Oct. 30 Tenno Sho, has never been farther than 1 1/4 miles, while 2003 Japan Cup laureate Tap Dance City was only ninth in the Tenno Sho and seventh in the Takarazuka Kinen. Both of them look to be in tough. Admire Japan was just two lengths second in the Japanese St. Leger behind the all-conquering Deep Impact, but is cutting back from 1 7/8 miles and facing older horses for the first time.

The absence of the Japanese Triple Crown champ Deep Impact has as profound an effect on this race as the presence of any one of its 18 runners and provides hope for many, among them the three other European challengers. The best of them is probably Bago, the 2004 Arc winner, who looked uncomfortable on the ground when fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf. Alkaased, withdrawn from the Turf because of the going, has a dark-horse chance, while the well-traveled Warrsan, two-time winner of both the Coronation Cup and the Grosser Preis von Baden, loves the distance but was only 15th behind Zenno Rob Roy in last year's race.