Gentildonna may have arrived in Dubai in March with a tall reputation, but Japan’s 2012 horse of the year now has it all to prove to defend her crown in the 33rd Japan Cup in Tokyo on Sunday.
Gentildonna won six of her seven starts last season and capped her campaign by edging Orfevre in the Japan Cup to become the first three-year-old filly to win the 2,400m Group 1.
She never looked like getting past St Nicholas Abbey in the Dubai Sheema Classic in March, and since then she has been thrashed by Sunday’s rival, Gold Ship, in the Takarazuka Kinen in June and by Just Away in the Tenno Sho last month.
Both of those defeats partly could be attributed to layoffs, and trainer Sei Ishizaka has left no stone unturned, replacing long-serving Japanese rider Yasunari Iwata with Ryan Moore.
“Her run in the Tenno Sho was just not her. I just can’t be happy with that race,” Ishizaka told the Japanese Racing Association. “I think she’ll be better after the one race. I don’t know if she’s the same condition as she was, but she is definitely not any worse.”
Gentildonna and Gold Ship lead a 14-strong defence of Japan’s most valuable race at 521 million yen (Dh18.8m) against the three international runners of Dunaden, Joshua Tree and Simenon.
It is not the strongest international challenge in recent times, as the foreign contingent try to snap a run of seven home wins.
The trio of raiders have just one victory this year between them; Joshua Tree’s win in the Canadian International at Woodbine last month, and assistant trainer Andrew Stringer was realistic in his ambitions.
“We really need one of Gentildonna, Gold Ship and Eishin Flash to run poorly to give us a chance of gaining big prize money,” Stringer said. “Because we’ve got a really big pot by winning the Canadian International, if we could run into third place we would win around US$830,000 (Dh3.05m).”