10/29/2009 11:00PM

Vodka has tough foes in repeat bid


Japan's reigning Horse of the Year, Vodka, faces a tough task at Tokyo on Sunday in a highly competitive renewal of the $2.8 million, Grade 1 Autumn Tenno Sho, which at 1 1/4 miles is the key local trial for the 1 1/2-mile Japan Cup on Nov. 29.

Trained by Katsuhiko Sumii, Vodka won this race last year by a nose from another female, Daiwa Scarlet. Having returned from Dubai and a pair of subpar efforts in the Jebel Hatta and the Dubai Duty Free, she won the Victoria Mile and the Yasuda Kinen. Following a four-month layoff, she was a length second to Company in the 1 1/8-mile, Grade 2 Mainichi Okan on Oct. 11. Yutaka Take takes his usual place aboard Vodka, a 5-year-old daughter of the Brian's Time stallion Tanino Gimlet.

Company, who was fourth in both the Yasuda Kinen and last year's Autumn Tenno Sho, tries Vodka again. Matsurida Gogh and Dream Journey, first and second last time in the 1 3/8-mile, Grade 2 Sankei Sho All-Comers, both have a license to win, as does the stout-hearted Oken Bruce Lee, last year's Japanese St. Leger winner who returned from a seven-month absence on Oct. 11 to take the 1 1/2-mile, Grade 2 Kyoto Daishoten.

The Tenno Sho wild card could be Captain Thule. The 2 1/2-length winner of the 1 1/4-mile Japanese 2000 Guineas last year was out of action for 16 months before his Aug. 9 return, in which he was fourth over an inadequate mile in a Grade 3 race at Niigata. An Agnes Tachyon 4-year-old, he next won the 1 1/4-mile, Grade 3 Asahi Challenge Cup and has been pointed to this race by trainer Hideyuki Mori ever since his return.