Reigning Japan Cup (G1) winner Cheval Grand and an early prospect for this fall's Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1), Clincher, are among 17 nominated for the April 29 Tenno Sho (Spring) (G1) at Kyoto Racecourse.
The 3,200 meters (about 2 miles) around the outer turf course starts a six-week stretch of grade 1 events in Japan.
Cheval Grand finished second in this race last year in a campaign that saw him win the Japan Cup at Tokyo in November. He finished third in both the 2016 Tenno Sho and Japan Cup. However, he will be trying to shake off the rust from a 13th-place showing in his only start of 2018—the Osaka Hai (G1).
"I think the 2,000 meters on the inner course at Hanshin was probably a bit short for him," trainer Yasuo Tomomichi said of Cheval Grand's season opener. "He didn't really get into a good rhythm in that race but came out of it fine. His last two runs in the spring Tenno Sho have been good, so I'll be expecting something similar to those this time."
Cheval Grand is a 6-year-old son of Heart's Cry out of the Machiavellian mare Halwa Sweet. His owner, Kazuhiro Sasaki, pitched for the Seattle Mariners from 2000-03 and was the 2000 American League Rookie of the Year.
Another closely watched contender in the Tenno Sho is 4-year-old Clincher, who finished second in last year's Kikuka Sho/Japanese St. Leger (G1) at 3,000 meters over the Kyoto course.
Clincher's connections consider him a candidate for the Arc—a race that has proved a prolonged jinx for the Japanese and a race they dearly would love to land.
Yutaka Take, who has won the Tenno Sho eight times, originally was scheduled to take the mount on Clincher, but he is serving a suspension. Kosei Miura, who broke Take's rookie season record for wins in 2008, gets the call in an effort to win his first grade 1 event.
Clincher is by Deep Sky out of the Brian's Time mare The Fates.