It seems naming horses after a country does not do any harm when it comes to trying to win the Investec Derby.
Australia won the 2014 renewal and, five years later, Japan came within half a length of doing the same. He finished third in a blanket finish behind stablemate Anthony Van Dyck.
Japan had been a leading ante-post fancy for the Derby over the winter but suffered a minor setback in the spring and was very easy to back when fourth in the Dante at York on his return, beaten about five lengths.
He was also a big drifter on Derby day, going off at 20/1 after being half that price in the morning.
However, it did not stop him running a huge race under Wayne Lordan.
The jockey said: “He was a little bit babyish on the track, but he got it together and came home well. I am delighted with him.”
Japan confirmed himself a top-class colt when landing the King Edward VII Stakes by four and a half lengths on his next start at Royal Ascot.
Trainer Aidan O’Brien said: “The Derby was a very good race, I don’t think anyone realised what a good race it was – we can see what happened to Circus Maximus earlier in the week. They were all there together – it was a very high-class race.”
“This is a very smart horse and he is coming forward lovely all the time, who knows but we couldn’t be happier.
“He had a lovely run in the Dante, and he was just ready to go again, and came forward for the Derby. Wayne was delighted with him in the Derby, Wayne rides him in all his work. Everything has been right with him all the time and progressing all the time.”
Lead owner Derrick Smith said: “It was as you would expect him to win really, he was third in the Derby, I reckon he is the best of the lot, this wasn’t a surprise. The surprise was the price!”
Japan has subsequently shown himself to be a big force back at the highest level.
First, he scooped the Group 1 Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp. Not much divided the first four home but Ryan Moore always looked to have things in hand aboard the odds-on favourite.
Next time, back over ten furlongs, he put up a career-best to edge out Crystal Ocean by a head in the Juddmonte International Stakes at York.
O’Brien said: “From the start he has been good and I couldn’t be happier.
“We didn’t want to overdo it earlier in the year as we were thinking of the autumn. We rushed him to the Dante and every run since then has been a step up – he’s stepping up all the way.
“Horses progress and you’re never sure which is the best. We don’t look at them like that home and let them progress from race to race.
“This horse would have no problem stepping back up in trip – he’s very comfortable at a mile and a half.”
He duly did so in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and ran a super race to be fourth to Waldgeist.
Japan is a son of Galileo and is out of Shayste. He is a brother to the Oaks runner-up Secret Gesture and the Group 3 winner Sir Isaac Newton.
He was bred by Newells Park Stud, and bought by MV Magnier/Mayfair/P&R Doyle for 1.3 million guineas at Tattersalls October Book 1 Yearling Sale in 2017.
As a two-year-old, Japan won two of his three starts and signed off with a narrow win in the Group 2 Beresford Stakes over a mile at Naas.