October 20, 2020

‘Legend horse’ Almond Eye dazzles in Breeders’ Cup WAYI Victoria Mile

Almond Eye
Almond Eye routed the Victoria Mile to tie the JRA record of seven G1 titles on turf (Copyright Japan Racing Association)

By zooming away from the field in Sunday’s $2.1 million Victoria Mile (G1) at Tokyo, Almond Eye zoomed into the Japan Racing Association record book with a seventh career Grade 1 title. Regular rider Christophe Lemaire could accordingly describe her as a “legend horse” after she equaled the record JRA Grade 1 tally of Symboli Rudolf, T M Opera O, Deep Impact, Vodka, Gentildonna, and Kitasan Black.

Judging by Almond Eye’s demolition job on Sunday, the 5-year-old mare is on course to eclipse that mark. The chance to run up the score, and set an enduring JRA record, only adds to the appeal of staying home at least through a title defense in the Nov. 1 Tenno Sho Autumn (G1). Thus although the Victoria Mile awarded Almond Eye a ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), her chances of turning up at Keeneland in early November are questionable.

Trained by Sakae Kunieda for Silk Racing Co, Almond Eye was coming off the only poor effort of her life, a ninth in the Dec. 22 Arima Kinen (G1). There were clear reasons for that blip, and for the hope of a renewal here. Japanese fans, who couldn’t be on track thanks to the COVID-19 restrictions, pledged their unwavering support by sending her off as the 2-5 favorite. Her North American fans also piled on, resulting in a $3.10 win payout on TwinSpires.

Almond Eye made their investments look rock-solid from the beginning. Lemaire did his part by placing her perfectly in the 16-horse field, with clear sailing and just a few lengths off the longshot pacesetter Trois Etoiles. Contra Check chased in second, and Sound Chiara took up a forward spot in third.

But Almond Eye was traveling with ominous ease. Before Lemaire so much as moved a muscle, the outcome was foreordained. The only question was how far. Still ambling as she crept nearer in midstretch, Almond Eye was already overtaking Sound Chiara and then Trois Etoiles. When Lemaire turned her loose, she bounded away by four lengths.

“Daylight’s gonna run second!” racecaller Murray Johnson enthused.

Sound Chiara, well served by her tactical ride by Kohei Matsuyama, held the runner-up spot by a neck from defending champion Normcore. Finishing with her characteristic flourish, Normcore clocked her final 3 furlongs in :33.2, but Almond Eye was faster in :32.9.

Almond Eye came within an eyelash of bettering Normcore’s stakes mark of 1:30.5, completing the metric mile in 1:30.6. But the 2019 Victoria Mile was a blanket finish. This was a procession on a course that had firmed up after recent rain.

Trois Etoiles excelled herself in fourth, a half-length up on Danon Fantasy who made mild headway late. Next came Shigeru Pink Dia; Loves Only You, who shaped as though she prefers longer at this level; last year’s near-misser Primo Scene; Beach Samba; Shadow Diva; Arusha; Tosen Bless; Satono Garnet; Contra Check; Scarlet Color; and Megere Su. Dimension and Therapeia were scratched.

“I think she’s matured well, as she was relaxed from the paddock to the start of the race,” Lemaire told the JRA. “I was able to position her in good position behind Sound Chiara and race her in her own rhythm without getting any pressure from the outside. She felt good during the race and displayed her powerful strides at the end.

“She’s a legend horse and will surely win more G1 races going forward.”

Japan’s 2018 Horse of the Year, Almond Eye swept the Fillies’ Triple Crown – the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) (G1), Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) (G1), and Shuka Sho (G1) – and defeated older males in a record-setting Japan Cup (G1).

The daughter of Lord Kanaloa made a terrific international debut in the 2019 Dubai Turf (G1) on Dubai World Cup night, but her winning streak was halted when a troubled third in the Yasuda Kinen (G1). She was back on song in the Tenno Sho Autumn, only to spike a fever that ruled her out of the Hong Kong Cup (G1). Her rerouting to the Arima Kinen backfired, and her first rebound attempt in Dubai was called off by the pandemic.

Almond Eye performed like a horse on a mission in the Victoria Mile, extending her record to 12-9-1-1 and boosting her bankroll beyond the ¥1.4 billion (approximately $13 million) mark.

Bred by Northern Farm, Almond Eye was produced by the smart Fusaichi Pandora, who captured the 2006 Queen Elizabeth 2 Commemorative Cup at Kyoto and placed in a pair of classics. The Sunday Silence mare descends from Sex Appeal, dam of El Gran Senor and Try My Best, from the international all-star family of Redoute’s Choice, Spinning World, and Rags to Riches.