This week's big race in Japan will be the Grade 1 Tenno Sho (Spring) or Emperor's Cup, as it is known in English. The race this coming Sunday (May 3) will be run at Kyoto Racecourse, and will see some of the country's more experienced horses take on the ultimate stamina test over the 3,200 meters on the outer turf course at the track. The race is for 4-year-olds and up, and there are 16 nominations, including one filly, this time around. Horses carry a set weight of 57kg, with a 2kg allowance given to fillies. Among the entries is last year's winner, Fierement, who is bidding to become just the fifth horse in the history of the spring event to win in consecutive years.
There are currently two Tenno Sho races held each year, with the autumn race being run over a shorter trip. The spring Tenno Sho was first run in 1938, when it was held at Hanshin, but it was switched to Kyoto in 1948. This year will see the 81st running of the spring showpiece, and the 161st overall. It became an international race back in 2005.
Two of the big lead up races that a number of the runners in the Tenno Sho have taken on are the Grade 2 Hanshin Daishoten, run over 3,000 meters at Hanshin in March, and the Grade 2 Nikkei Sho, run over 2,500 meters at Nakayama, also in March. Market leaders have done well in the past ten years, with five second favorites winning and two first favorites also rewarding their followers. In the same time period, 4 and 5-year-olds have shared the honors with four wins apiece. In the past eight years, the race has been run on firm ground, and Kitasan Black showed a real liking for it when he rewrote the race record in 2017, winning in a time of 3 minutes 12.5 seconds. The winner this year will receive JPY150 million.
Final declarations and the barrier draw will be available later in the week for this year's Tenno Sho (Spring), which will be Race 11 on the Sunday card at Kyoto, with a post time locally of 15:40.
Here's a look at some of the big names expected to be in the line-up :
Fierement - The 5-year-old certainly hasn't been overraced, having had just the nine starts for four wins, including last year's Tenno Sho (Spring), when he got home by just a neck. He disappointed on his trip to France for the Arc de Triomphe, but on his return to Japan, he finished a respectable fourth in last year's Grade 1 Arima Kinen (The Grand Prix), the last time he ran. Trainer Takahisa Tezuka believes the horse is getting back to his best. "He didn't handle the ground in the Arc, but his run in the Arima Kinen was encouraging, given what a tough race it was. He's since been at Northern Farm Tenei for a break, and after returning to the stable on the 3rd (April), he's been moving well and showing that he's in good condition," said the trainer.
You Can Smile - Fifth in last year's Japan Cup, the Yasuo Tomomichi trained 5-year-old is coming off a win in his only race this year, the Grade 2 Hanshin Daishoten over 3,000 meters in March. "He ran smoothly in the first half of the race last time, and picked up well between the third and fourth corners, getting a good run on the inside to go on and win. He was plus 12 kg for that race, compared with the Japan Cup, and that seemed to make the difference. In training on April 16th, he worked solo on the woodchip course, but he moved well," said Tomomichi. With jockey Yasunari Iwata sustaining a fall in racing on Sunday, things are on hold as to who might take the ride on You Can Smile.
Kiseki - One of two nominated runners from the stable of Katsuhiko Sumii, Kiseki has to be one of the unluckiest horses around. He did win the 2017 Grade 1 Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger), but hasn't won since. He has three second place finishes and one third place finish among other Grade 1 races he has taken on. In his latest race where he started favorite, he blew the start badly and could only manage a seventh place finish. Assistant trainer Takashi Kotaki commented: "He got off to such a poor start last time that a gate test was necessary with him. That was on the 15th, and he passed that with no problem, so we've been able to get on with his training since." Trying to ring the changes with the horse, Yutaka Take, eight time winner of the spring Tenno Sho, will ride him for the first time.
Mikki Swallow - Even though this will be the 6-year-old's first try at a Grade 1 since the 2018 Arima Kinen, he tuned up nicely with a good win last time in the Grade 2 Nikkei Sho over 2,500 meters at Nakayama in March. Trainer Takanori Kikuzawa is pleased with the horse. "He was impeded by a horse going back through the field in his first race this year, the American Jockey Club Cup. Last time in the Nikkei Sho, however, he hit the front well in the homestretch and went on to win comfortably. He came out of that race well, and he put in a good piece of work on the 16th, posting a good time too," said the trainer.
Meisho Tengen - The 4-year-old colt by Deep Impact has showed his ability in staying races of late, including last time when he ran third to You Can Smile in the Grade 2 Hanshin Daishoten. Trainer Kaneo Ikezoe hopes he can break the spell on the long period without Grade 1 success, which goes back to 1999. Assistant trainer, Yukio Higashida, commented on the horse: "Two starts ago he just got beaten on the line, and last time he ran a good race too, showing he's able to perform well over longer distances. There's no tiredness after his last race, and things are as usual with him."
Tosen Cambina - It'll be the first Grade 1 this time for the 4-year-old colt, but he boasts a good enough record, with four wins and four seconds from thirteen starts so far, and he seems to be improving. He's another runner for trainer Katsuhiko Sumii. Assistant trainer at the stable, Takashi Kotaki, said, "He started badly last time, but recovered well enough during the race. The jockey did a good job to get him to run on late on the inside, so it showed us that even though it was his first race over 3,000 meters, he's capable of staying the distance."
Mozu Bello - The 4-year-old colt by Deep Brillante is an interesting runner here, also taking on a Grade 1 for the first time, but he finished a gallant second last time to Mikki Swallow in the Grade 2 Nikkei Sho over 2,500 meters at Nakayama in March. He has three wins from five starts at Kyoto, proving he can run well at the track. Trainer Naoyuki Morita is looking to win his first career Grade 1 with him. "One of the keys with the horse is getting him to run straight. Lacking a bit of muscle, last time he ran a little unbalanced, leaning in at the end of the race. Having said that, he still managed to give a good account of himself," said the trainer.