Japan set for St Nic route after Chester win

Aidan O’Brien has high hopes Japan can follow in the footsteps of St Nicholas Abbey, having got his career back on track with victory in the tote+ Pays You More At tote.co.uk Ormonde Stakes.

‘St Nic’s’ best days seemed behind him when he arrived at Chester in 2011 as a four-year-old, having missed the Derby – for which he was favourite – and been well beaten on his return from a lengthy lay off.

He blitzed his rivals that day, though, and never looked back. He won the Coronation Cup on his next outing and added the Breeders’ Cup Turf, another two Coronation Cups and the Sheema Classic to his CV. So should Japan emulate that haul, then O’Brien will be happy.

Japan landed the Grand Prix de Paris and Juddmonte International as a three-year-old, but went winless last season, so a confidence-boosting win over Ascot Gold Cup hopeful Trueshan, who emerged with plenty of credit, was just what the doctor ordered.

“We were delighted. Last year we started him in a very competitive race (Prince of Wales’s), and it just didn’t work out through the year – but obviously nothing was straightforward last year, and his season went into reverse afterwards,” said O’Brien.

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“We used this race with St Nic before, and he got into a good place afterwards – so we’re hoping this horse might do the same.

“Obviously he’s in the Coronation, and that is kind of what we had one eye if everything went well. He ran well in a Derby there (third). It was all about confidence today and getting him started.”

Japan has previously mixed his races over 10 and 12 furlongs – yet despite this victory over almost a mile and three-quarters, he will not be experimenting with Cup races.

“He definitely wouldn’t be running over anything further than today, we’d be going back in trip rather than forwards,” said O’Brien.

“The plan was the Coronation, and then we’ll see. We’ve others to think about as well, and he’s got very good form over a mile and a quarter, but we’ll go over a mile and a half with him next.”

Ryan Moore was on board and insisted he had never doubted Japan’s class.

“He’s a beautiful horse who we’ve always held in high regard, and he’s won a Juddmonte,” he said.

“Hopefully that will give him a bit of confidence. He didn’t really enjoy that dead ground. He’s a lovely looking horse with a great mind and hopefully he can go on from here.

“The Coronation Cup is an option – he ran well in the Derby there, and this should set him up for the bigger races later in the year. I’d expect him to come on from this as well. He’s got some class – I’ve always had a very high opinion of this horse.”

The rider added: “The ground is just sticky enough for him, and the trip probably stretches him, but he has loads of class and it’s good that he’s come back with a win.”

Giving Japan a real race – and a weight concession of 5lb to the 13-8 favourite – was Trueshan, and Alan King was understandably delighted with his Champions Day hero, who will now head for the Ascot Gold Cup.

The Barbury Castle trainer said: “I’m absolutely thrilled with him and I’ve just spoken to (jockey) Hollie (Doyle), and she feels the same.

“It’s great to get him out and get him started, and I think he’s run a terrific race. I’m very pleased.

“He’s a wee bit slow out (of the stalls), and you just have to roust him a little bit, but Hollie got him into a lovely position – and all in all it was a terrific run.

“That (Gold Cup) will be his next stop if the ground is right. We’ll just have to see what the weather does in June.”

Rest of Chester’s Thursday action

Jabbarockie displayed his customary speed from the gate and made every yard of the running to win the Satchell Moran Solicitors Business Interruption Claims Handicap at Chester.

Eric Alston’s veteran may be an eight-year-old now, but he has looked better than ever in his two races to date this season and the form book backs that up.

A winner at Musselburgh by just a short head in the Scottish Sprint Cup, he was 3lb higher this time but once he took full advantage of his plum draw in stall one, the race was effectively over and he beat Count D’Orsay by a length and a quarter.

Jason Hart was on board after his intended mount Lord Riddiford was a non runner. He replaced Harrison Shaw.

“When you get drawn one around here it makes life a hell of a lot easier,” said Hart of the 5-2 winner.

“He winged the gates and I was able to fill up more than I thought, I thought I’d have a lot more pressure for the lead.

“He’s getting quicker this horse and he’s staying the trip out well. Eric does great with his sprinters and I felt he’d improved a hell of a lot from Musselburgh.”

Richard Fahey’s Master Zoffany quickened up impressively to win the Deepbridge Estate Planning Service Handicap.

There were plenty in with chances entering the short straight, but Paul Hanagan’s mount surged two and three-quarter lengths clear at 11-1.

“He’d have been unlucky if he hadn’t won, so we’re happy enough with that, (and) the ground probably helped us,” said Fahey.

“I just wanted him to run well today, so there’s no master plan. It looked a warm race to me, so I’ll go home and have a think.”

Fahey came close to completing a double in the Destination 2 Handicap, with Spirit Dancer cutting out much of the running in the colours of part-owner Sir Alex Ferguson.

But try as he might, he could not shake off fellow 5-1 joint-favourite Baryshnikov, who finished with a flourish to seal his second course victory by a short head for trainer David Barron and jockey Connor Beasley.

“He’s been in great form at home – the boss and the team have been very happy with him,” said Beasley.

“He seems to thrive when he comes here. He’s obviously won around here in the past and travelled away lovely.

“It was a bit of a head-to-head battle up the straight, but I always felt I was getting on top.”

After spending much of the afternoon in her role as a pundit for ITV Racing, Hayley Turner jumped in the saddle to steer Mercurial to success in the British Stallion Studs EBF Maiden Stakes.

The 13-2 shot got the better of a fellow Tom Dascombe-trained juvenile in Russellinthebushes, with 5-6 favourite Zoltan Star right on their heels in third.

Turner said: “He’s got a great attitude. He’s still a little bit colty, but he was game in the race and has done it well enough.

“He just does enough and has probably got a bit more up his sleeve. Hopefully he’ll become more professional with racing.”

Dascombe added: “I hate running horses against each other, but when people want to run in a particular race you have to run them. I’ll have one set of disappointed owners and one very happy set as well.

“You just have to expect that might happen. There was very little between them, and they were the two maidens we had ready for this meeting.

“They’ve never worked with each other, because one is a colt and the other a filly. I honestly thought the filly would win – I was nearly right!”

Mark Johnston also saddled a one-two, in the concluding Boodles Handicap, with the Franny Norton-ridden Love Is Golden (15-2) getting the better of Baileys Derbyday in a driving finish.

Johnston said: “I’m not entirely surprised by either – they were both backward horses who were crying out to be stepped up in trip.

“The winner is very well bred, and Franny said he could go further already.”

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