Hundreds of thousands of horse races take place around the world each year, but Clive Brittain believes he knows which is the most difficult of all to win. And, being Clive, you can be fairly sure that he is not saying so simply because he is the only British trainer to have won it.
"I'd say that the Japan Cup is the hardest," he said yesterday. "The Japanese are getting stronger all the time and you're meeting them at full force, at the height of their season. The Australians are at the peak of their year too, and they send their best horses.
"Our horses will be at the tail end unless they've had an enforced rest like Jupiter Island (Brittain's winner in 1986). He went out there a fresh horse but Japan's standard of racing since we won has come on 10-fold."
Brittain, remember, is one of life's great optimists, which only re-emphasises the scale of the task facing Michael Stoute's Pure Grain in the 1995 Japan Cup on Saturday. Had Stoute leaned over his Newmarket neighbour's fence for a little advice before leaving for Japan on Tuesday, he might have cancelled his reservation. Nonetheless, Pure Grain has now arrived at Fuchu racecourse in Tokyo and, a spokesman for her yard reported yesterday, regained the weight she lost in transit. She will need it.
"We made her exercise on grass so she can get used to the Japanese turf," the spokesman said. "She will have a lighter training programme here than in Britain to take into account the travelling. But she will have a hard work-out on Friday."
Pure Grain has run just five times this year, but still cannot be said to have had a light season. Success in the Musidora Stakes in May was followed by four successive outings in Group One company, most recently in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, in which she finished fifth. The ground in Tokyo, which is rarely anything but firm, is also likely to be against her.
Yet she is nothing if not a battler, and Fuchu's broad bends and long home run should suit her galloping style. "If you're there turning in, you've got plenty of straight and plenty of room," Brittain said. "It's a bit uphill to the finish and a horse can really dig in."
With John Reid holding Pure Grain's reins, there will be no shortage of encouragement or experience from above. Reid partnered Dr Devious, who finished unplaced, in 1992. Now, ironically, Dr Devious is one of several stallions, imported from Europe and America at great cost, who are slowly turning Japan into one of the world's great racing powers.
Pure Grain could remind the Japanese that money does not always guarantee success on the turf. The betting, however, must be that on Sunday morning, the British branch of the Japan Cup winner's club will still have a membership of one.
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