Cheval Grand's chase for overseas glory will continue after the 2017 Japan Cup winner finished eighth out of nine in the Juddmonte International Stakes on Wednesday.
In the day's showpiece at York Racecourse, the 7-year-old veteran from Japan was never in the hotly contested, 2,050-meter race won by the Aidan O'Brien-trained 3-year-old Japan, ridden by Ryan Moore.
Cheval Grand's trainer Yasuo Tomomichi pinned the loss down to the pace.
"He ran as well as he possibly could," Tomomichi said of the first Japanese horse – and second all-time – to run in the Juddmonte International Stakes since Zenno Rob Roy in 2005. "He was in fine condition but the pace, at 2,000 meters, wasn't really for him. He travelled a little further to the back than we had hoped so we needed a brisk pace, which we didn't get.
"He didn't have a chance to show his stamina down the stretch so it was unfortunate."
Trainer Sir Michael Stoute's Crystal Ocean, the betting favourite at odds of 5-to-1, was a narrow second to Japan, who crossed the finish line in 2 minutes, 7.7 seconds as the third overall choice. Taking third another length back was Elarqam.
With Japan's stablemate Circus Maximus setting the pace, Cheval Grand, under Oisin Murphy, got off to a good start from the No. 5 stall and took position mid-pack – on the tail of Japan.
In his previous start, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes on July 27 at Ascot, Cheval Grand was set back by the soft going due to the downpour a day earlier, ending up in sixth.
The Heart's Cry son could not catch a break again on Wednesday as this time he was hampered by a slow pace. While Japan and Crystal Ocean slugged it out on the punishing final straight for the winner's check of 1 million pounds, Cheval Grand slid back, falling out of contention with each stride.
Originally, Cheval Grand – who was also runner-up in the Dubai Sheema Classic back in March – was set to call it a career after last season but owner and former Major League Baseball star Kazuhiro Sasaki decided to give him another year – on the global stage, however.
After the disappointment in the King George, the Cheval Grand camp had its hopes up with York being the flattest racetrack in Britain, conditions that would be ideal for its runner. Yet those dreams were dashed by the unfortunate pace and it remains to be seen when and where Cheval Grand will race next.
Cheval Grand, out of the Machiavellian dam Halwa Sweet, has seven wins from 30 starts with career earnings surpassing 1 billion yen.
"We had good weather, good turf as well and our expectations were very high," Tomomichi said. "The result is not what we hoped for but we'll keep at it. The challenge will continue for him."
Added Murphy: "He had good speed out of the gate and during the trip we were right behind Japan, who went on to win the race. (Cheval Grand) ran his heart out but the pace wasn't fast enough for him. It was tough on him. I know this wasn't the result everyone had in mind but we'll keep trying."
O'Brien won the race for a record-tying sixth time with Japan, who was third in the Investec Derby. The colt caught Crystal Ocean, the narrow runner-up in the King George to Enable, in the final strides to overtake him by a head.
"From the start he has been good and I couldn't be happier," the famed Irish trainer was quoted as saying by the Qipco British Champions Series website. "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 at 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."