2016 Tenno Sho (Spring) (G1) - Preview
In between the races spotlighting youth comes the Tenno Sho (Spring) on May 1, a fan favorite that brings together veterans and youngsters alike and starts off what will be six straight weeks of top-level racing. The only Grade 1 of the six races that is not held at Tokyo Racecourse, the springtime marathon and one of Japan’s most prestigious races, the Tenno Sho (Spring) gives fans their fill of action, more than 3 minutes of it from gate to finish. And the battle for the front is heated, with 150 million yen up for grabs to whomever can hit the wire in first.
It’s not just once around or partway around the field that the 18 runners will go – they will do it twice. The Tenno Sho at Kyoto is run over 3,200 meters of turf and showcases the best of the stayers like no other event. This year marks the 153rd running of the race combined with its shorter autumn version at Tokyo and the 77th running of the spring version.
The Kyoto outer course over 3,200 meters starts in the backstretch and 200 meters from the gate climbs 4 meters over 400 meters before dipping into the stretch. The field passes the grandstand for the first lap and horses tend to take a breather as they turn out of the stretch. Approaching the hill once again, the pace tends to pick up and positioning for the final drive home is pitched.
Deep Impact holds the record time of 3 minutes, 13.4 seconds, set in 2006.
Destined to take top billing in this year’s lineup is Gold Actor, a handsome black son of another turf performer – Screen Hero, whose first crop has, in addition to Gold Actor, also given us the champion miler Maurice, who will be racing at Hong Kong’s Sha Tin Racecourse on the day of the Tenno Sho (Spring). The 5-year-old Gold Actor has been proving his naysayers wrong race after race and is now on a five-race roll. After trouncing Sounds of Earth in the Arima Kinen (The Grand Prix) for his first G1 victory, Gold Actor started off this year with the Nikkei Sho on March 26, a G2 over 2,500 meters, and beat Sounds of Earth to the line once again in yet another stunning performance.
And, he did it at what his connections called “only 70-80 percent” of his best. An assistant to trainer Tadashige Nakawaga called the Nikkei Sho “a perfect win.”
“People think he was too agitated before the race but he’d been too calm for the Arima Kinen. It’s normal for him to be rather restless,” the assistant said, while adding that “3,200 meters is not his best distance but he settles well and I think he’ll be able to run his usual race.” In the saddle will be regular jockey Hayato Yoshida, who says, “I’m confident I’m the one who can ride this horse best.”
Sounds of Earth, by Neo Universe, is currently 2 for 16. Also 5 years old, Sounds of Earth seems to have an unfortunate penchant for second place. Specifically, he’s been runnerup six times in graded stakes races, including the 2014 Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger), last year’s Arima Kinen, and last out in the 2,500-meter Nikkei Sho, in which the latter two races, he has followed Gold Actor over the finish line. He’s getting stronger with time, however, and taking him his first big title is definitely no pipe dream. “He did lose the Nikkei Sho despite having the weight advantage (2 kg less than the winner),” trainer Kenichi Fujioka said, “but he didn’t lose as much weight with the journey (to Nakayama Racecourse) as I’d thought he would and I think he can still give us a lot more. He’s well suited to the Kyoto outer course and the added distance will be a plus.”
Carrying the banner high for the 4-year-olds is Kitasan Black, a colt by Black Tide, who is an older full brother to Deep Impact. Kitasan Black’s dam, Sugar Heart, is by champion sprinter Sakura Bakushin O, which is one reason cited for Kitasan Black’s surprising chronic lack of popularity. His finishing order, however, has consistently beat the odds he goes to the gate with. After acing the Kikuka Sho last year, Kitasan Black ran third in the Arima Kinen, then came back after a layoff for a second place by a neck in the Osaka Hai (G2, 2,000 meters) on April 3. It was a frustrating loss that saw Kitasan Black looking headed for a wire-to-wire victory under Yutaka Take, but then overtaken in the final strides by Ambitious on the outside. “He ran the race I wanted but in the end the difference in the weight they were carrying played a role,” Take said. Kitasan Black carried 2 kg more than Ambitious. This time, with Ambitious spelling, and past rivals such as last year’s Tenno Sho (Spring) winner Gold Ship retired, Duramante and Real Steel passing on this race after Dubai, and Lovely Day headed for the Takarazuka Kinen after Hong Kong, it may just be Kitasan Black’s chance to avenge the Osaka Hai loss and give entertainer owner Saburo Kitajima once again something to sing about.
Cheval Grand, now at five for 12, with three seconds, captured his first big race last out with a win of the grueling Hanshin Daishoten, run over 3,000 meters. Before that he ran second in the 2,400-meter G2 Nikkei Shinshun Hai. The Hanshin Daishoten was Cheval Grand’s first time over anything longer than 2,400 meters but he showed himself well suited to distance. Trainer Yasuo Tomomichi says the big question this time is whether the Heart’s Cry 4-year-old can handle his first time racing under 58 kg, 2 kg heavier than he has ever raced with. Tomomichi says the colt tends to put on weight easily, “so we kept him at Ritto Training Center after his last race to keep him tuned up.” Tomomichi says he passed on the Kikuka Sho last year with this race as his goal all along. “He’s met our expectations and he’s put on nice muscle since last autumn. He settles well so I think the extra furlong shouldn’t be a problem.” Yuichi Fukunaga has the ride.
The 6-year-old Fame Game ran second in this race last year following a win of the 3,400-meter Diamond Stakes. This year he finished in second place in the same race, but was surely feeling the strain of his trip Down Under, the 58.5 kg he was saddled with in the Diamond Stakes (a full 4.5 kg more than the winner carried), and a “good” track that looked and ran more like a yielding track. Trainer Yoshitada Munakata says the Heart’s Cry-sired Fame Game is leaner and meaner now than he was for the Feb. 20 Diamond Stakes. Munakata says he’d prefer the track to have a bit of a spring to it come Sunday.
Beating Fame Game to the line in the Diamond Stakes for his first graded stakes victory was Twinkle, a 5-year-old son of Stay Gold. If the skies turn rainy, this is one guy who can handle a slower track.
Also another horse in the mix is the flaxen-maned Toho Jackal, a son of Special Week and 2014 Kikuka Sho champion. Hanshin Daishoten runnerup Tanta Alegria, Reve Mistral and Nikkei Sho fourth-place finisher Albert are also worthy of consideration.
The Tenno Sho (Spring) is the 11th race on the Sunday card of 12 at JRA Kyoto Racecourse. Post time is set for 3:40 p.m. local time. All runners in what looks to be an all-male field will carry 58 kg.