Tenno Sho (Spring) (G1) - Preview
Ask Victor More
The last day of April brings the 167th running of the Tenno Sho (Spring), the highly esteemed competition is a marathon of a jaunt over 3,200 meters of turf. It is back at its traditional location after two and a half years, Kyoto Racecourse, newly renovated and just reopened on April 22. Seventeen horses are expected in the gate and the first prize is JPY220 million.
The field on Sunday should see five returnees from last year’s Tenno Sho (Spring) - (in finishing order) Titleholder, Deep Bond, Iron Barows, Melody Lane, and Tosen Cambina - and the change of venues will add a good bit of flavor to the fun.
2021’s Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger) winner Titleholder claimed the 2022 Tenno Sho (Spring), but it will be his first time to race at Kyoto. He is also going to be meeting another Kikuka Sho winner, Ask Victor More, a 4-year-old who won the race last year and a newcomer to the Tenno Sho (Spring). Adding more spice to the pot is the participation of the 2022 Kikuka Sho runnerup Boldog Hos and third-place finisher Justin Palace.
There is also some history to be made by those in the saddles. To date, only three jockeys in Japan Racing Association history have laid claim to what are considered the “Big 8” competitions. Two of the three - Christophe Lemaire and Yutaka Take - are still riding. If Mirco Demuro, who is pegged to ride longshot Sanrei Pocket, could win, he would become the fourth jockey to claim the eight prestigious races. It will be the seventh try for Demuro to win the Tenno Sho (Spring). Of the other seven races, he has already tallied a formidable 22 wins. Visiting rider Damian Lane, to be paired with Silver Sonic, and Japan’s current leading jockey Yuga Kawada, partnered with Boldog Hos, are also gunning for their first wins of the race. Both horses are owned by Shadai Race Horse Co. Ltd., which is also looking to pocket its final gem of the Big 8, won by only two previous owners to date.
Races often seen as indicators of success in the spring Tenno Sho are the Grade 2 Sports Nippon Sho Stayers Stakes over 3,600 meters at Nakayama, the Grade 3 Diamond Stakes over 3,400 meters at Tokyo, the Grade 2 Hanshin Daishoten over 3,000 meters at Hanshin and the Grade 2 Nikkei Sho over 2,500 meters at Nakayama.
The Tenno Sho (Spring) is scheduled to get under way over the Kyoto outer A course at 15:40 local time. It will be the No. 11 race on Kyoto’s card of 12.
Mare Melody Lane will carry 56 kg; all others 58 kg.
Here is a look at the expected top picks.
Titleholder: The race standout is three-time Grade 1 winner Titleholder. Last year, winner by seven lengths ahead of runnerup Deep Bond, the 5-year-old by Duramente looks to become only the sixth horse in JRA racing history to win the Tenno Sho (Spring) back-to-back. Last year, Titleholder followed up his Tenno Sho (Spring) win with victory in the Grade 1 Takarazuka Kinen. Despite a brave frontal attack, his ensuing Arc bid was unsuccessful and that also was followed by a disappointing ninth-place result in the Arima Kinen (The Grand Prix). However, Titleholder returned for his first start this year to top the Grade 2 Nikkei Sho on March 25 by an astounding eight lengths under 59kg on sloppy going.
Boldog Hos: A 4-year-old colt by Screen Hero, Boldog Hos has only missed the Top 3 twice in his current 11 career starts. Last year, he leapt into the spotlight with his outstanding performance in the Grade 1 Kikuka Sho. Though a consistent runner, he had yet to win a graded stakes race when he took on the Kikuka Sho and finished only a nose behind winner Ask Victor More, who had won the race in record time. It was even more praiseworthy when one considers that he had taken an outside course and topped the field with his time of 36.3 seconds over the final three furlongs. Later in the year, he ran second in the Arima Kinen and finished second again in his return to the track in this year’s Hanshin Daishoten. Chronically poor at the break, Boldog Hos broke sharply in the Hanshin Daishoten and traveled well.
Justin Palace: A 4-year-old son of Deep Impact, Justin Palace has four wins from his nine career starts and has only missed the Top 3 spots three times. Third-place finisher in the 2022 Kikuka Sho, at a still tender age, he’s already a Grade 1 veteran with five bids behind him, and two finishes in the Top 3. Ending the year with a seventh in the Arima Kinen, Justin Palace returned 16kg heavier for his first start of 2023 - the Hanshin Daishoten. He won it by a length and 3/4 over Boldog Hos and displayed great tenacity.
Ask Victor More: Another Deep Impact progeny, 2022 Kikuka Sho winner Ask Victor More has only finished out of the Top 3 twice in his 10-race career. His three Grade 1 bids brought results of 5-3-1. Last out, he was handed his worst finish to date, a ninth in the Grade 2 Nikkei Sho. Despite having carried the heaviest assigned weight (58kg) of his career (and the weight he’ll carry on Sunday), his poor results were likely more attributable to the sloppy going.
Silver Sonic: After tripping and losing his rider Yuga Kawada at the break in last year’s Tenno Sho (Spring), Silver Sonic returned seven months later with Damian Lane to score two graded stakes wins in a row, the Grade 2 Stayers Stakes and the most recent Grade 3 Red Sea Turf Handicap in Riyadh over 3,000 meters at King Abdulaziz, Saudi Arabia. Now taking on his first race of the year at home, the Ritto-based Silver Sonic, a 7-year-old by Orfevre, has three wins and four third-place finishes in his seven starts at over 3,000 meters or more (excluding the unfortunate 2022 Tenno Sho). He also was given a bit change, which seems to have helped stop him from lugging out. He is looking totally recovered from his overseas excursion and Lane is expected up on Sunday.
Deep Bond: Deep Bond, a 6-year-old son of Kizuna, deserves mention, not only for his two successive second-place finishes in the Tenno Sho (Spring), but also for his numerous efforts in Grade 1 competition. This will be his 11th time to race at the top level. His best results also include a fifth in the 2020 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby), a fourth later that year in the Kikuka Sho, which was held at Kyoto, a second in the 2021 Arima Kinen and a fourth in last year’s Takarazuka Kinen. His rather poor showing in last year’s Arima Kinen may have been caused in part by his having just returned from France.
Others to watch:
Four-year-old Matenro Leo carries the banner for sire Heart’s Cry, whose progeny have yet to win the Tenno Sho (Spring), though they did come in second for five years straight from 2014. Back after a fourth in the Osaka Hai, the bar is high for Matenro Leo. This will not only be the first time the youngster will race at Kyoto, but the first time he has been given anything further than 2,400 meters. He’s expected to be paired with veteran jockey Norihiro Yokoyama, who has won the spring marathon three times.