2024 Tenno Sho Spring: Group 1 Review

Track: Kyoto
Distance: 3200m
Prizemoney: ¥475,200,000 (about US$3.37 million)

T O Royal earned first Group 1 victories for himself, his trainer Inao Okada, and his jockey Yuji Hishida with a strong exhibition of staying power.

The six-year-old, a half-brother to the high-class dirt track runner Meisho Hario, had long shown Group 1-winning potential and was third in this race behind Titleholder in 2022, but his progress was curtailed when a leg fracture sidelined him from November 2022 until November 2023.

T O Royal returned stronger than ever and the Tenno Sho Spring was his third consecutive win from five starts since he returned to racing.

T O Royal shared 2.8 favouritism with last year’s G1 Kikuka Sho (Japanese St Leger) winner Durezza, who had warmed up with a fine second behind Prognosis in the G2 Kinko Sho. The field of 15 also featured last year’s Derby winner Tastiera, second to Durezza in the Kikuka Sho and looking to bounce back from a recent weak effort in the G1 Osaka Hai; and, of course, Deep Bond was there, a three-time runner-up in the race previously.

Matenro Leo set the tempo and by the time he headed them into the back straight on the final circuit, he was four lengths ahead of Deep Bond, Durezza tracked in third, and T O Royal was a comfortable fourth. But when Savona made a run up the inside past Durezza entering the penultimate turn, the joint-favourite was in trouble.

Up front, the tiring Matenro Leo’s race was all but over turning for home as Deep Bond moved to the lead, but T O Royal was accelerating powerfully outside his near flank and swept past the old-timer. T O Royal extended down the stretch to win by two lengths from the deep-closing Blow The Horn, as Deep Bond hung on for third.

2024 Tenno Sho Spring: Race Replay

T O ROYAL / G1 Tenno Sho Spring // Kyoto /// 2024 //// Video by JRA

What They Said

Yuji Hishida: “The horse raced in good rhythm and responded well going downhill after the third corner, so we were able to turn the last corner comfortably and slip out of the pack with ease. I’m really happy to have won this race because I decided to become a jockey when I saw this race 20 years ago.”

T O Royal and Yuji Hishida win G1 Tenno Sho Spring
YUJI HISHIDA / G1 Tenno Sho Spring // Kyoto /// 2024 //// Photo by Shuhei Okada

What Next?

Japan’s programme for two-milers is limited, so if T O Royal is to press on with a spring/summer domestic campaign then he could step out in the G1 Takarazuka Kinen over 2200m in June. But his autumn options at home are also limited, with a Japan Cup over 2400m and/or an Arima Kinen at 2500m the only Group 1 races anything like suitable for him.

It was interesting then to hear his owner suggesting post-race that a trip to Australia in November for the G1 Melbourne Cup would be considered. Connections will have to deal with difficult quarantine arrangements and strict vetting requirements, as well as a likely high weight in the handicap, but the third option of a European campaign, with the strong potential for wet ground, wouldn’t be as appealing.

The Disappointments

Durezza looked primed for this but the son of Duramente came under pressure a long way out, much too early for lack of stamina to have been a reason. He faded right out to finish a distant 15th and it would be no surprise if we were to find out something was amiss.

Joao Moreira gave Tastiera an ideal ride, enabling his mount to find his rhythm and emerge at the home turn to deliver a challenge from midfield. But last year’s G1 Tokyo Yushun hero failed to find a strong kick in the straight and plugged on to finish seventh. It could be that the two miles distance was too far, but after his Osaka Hai failure, the result did little to boost the status of last year’s crop of classic colts.  

David Morgan is Chief Journalist at Idol Horse. As a sports mad young lad in County Durham, England, horse racing hooked him at age 10. He has a keen knowledge of Hong Kong and Japanese racing after nine years as senior racing writer and racing editor at the Hong Kong Jockey Club. David has also worked in Dubai and spent several years at the Racenews agency in London. His credits include among others Racing Post, ANZ Bloodstock News, International Thoroughbred, TDN, and Asian Racing Report.

View all articles by David Morgan.

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