Japanese Horse of the Year Almond Eye kicked off her international campaign in style in Saturday’s $6 million Dubai Turf (G1), whetting the appetite for a European feast.
Trainer Sakae Kunieda and regular rider Christophe Lemaire could hardly have sounded more confident going into her Dubai World Cup night comeback. The Lord Kanaloa filly had reinforced the idea with her appearance all week at trackwork, and flaunted her class as the heavy favorite.
As Century Dream bowled to the lead, with Godolphin’s Carnival kingpin Dream Castle more prominent than might have been thought, and Without Parole also forward, the quick-starting Almond Eye eased back to just about the midpoint of the field. She was still cruising on the bridle as she advanced down the stretch, and already cleared away before Lemaire gave her a love tap to keep her on task.
Compatriot Vivlos, the 2017 Dubai Turf heroine and runner-up last year, again rallied boldly for best-of-the-rest. Postponing retirement for one last hurrah here, Vivlos retires to the paddocks with her head held high after going down by only 1 1/4 lengths. If she’s anything like her dam Halwa, who also produced Saturday’s Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) runner-up Cheval Grand (and multiple Grade 1 queen Verxina), Vivlos will do well.
European invader Lord Glitters excelled himself in third, just a half-length off Vivlos, and 4 1/4 lengths to the good of another Japanese distaffer, Deirdre. Without Parole tired to fifth, trailed by Southern Legend; Century Dream; Majestic Mambo; Wootton, who had a wide chasing trip early; Yulong Prince, set a stiff task in his first start since emigrating from South Africa (where he raced as Surcharge); I Can Fly, who never got involved after a tardy start; Mountain Hunter; and Dream Castle, hitherto unbeaten over this course.
Almond Eye reeled off about 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.78 on the good Meydan turf to earn her seventh consecutive victory. Unbeatable since her debut second, she boasts a sweep of the Japanese Fillies’ Triple Crown and a record-shattering victory over older males in the Japan Cup (G1).
Honored as Horse of the Year in a unanimous vote, Almond Eye has fueled hopes that she can furnish Japan with its first Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) trophy. Her road to ParisLongchamp is yet to be decided, but connections have mentioned preparing her in Europe.
Quotes from Dubai Racing Club
Winning trainer Sakae Kunieda: “It was a really great race. She broke well, settled well, got a good position and accelerated well to win well. It was the result I thought we could get and I’m happy she proved us right. I was nervous, I’ve lost my voice. Almond Eye can continue my dreams, so next we’ll go to Europe, our dream is to take her to the Arc.”
Winning rider Christophe Lemaire: “She was very impressive. The way she accelerated is unbelievable. Today was her first start of the year, and quite early on she was actually in front of the rest of the field. I think she relaxed a little bit and she had a bit of a margin on them. The distance was a little bit short for her today but she is so good that I had no fear about that.
“When you have the right horse and you have confidence in your horse, you can go out confident no matter what happens – and she’s the right horse. Hopefully, there are some big victories on the horizon for her.”
Yasuo Tomomichi, trainer of runner-up Vivlos: “She had a really good run for her last start (second to Beauty Generation in the Hong Kong Mile [G1]). She likes Dubai so much and thanks to the great support we have received from Dubai Racing Club, she could show her best effort today. This is her last start, so I would like to come back to Dubai with her offspring.”
Vivlos’ rider, Mickael Barzalona: “She has shown again that she loves Dubai and this race especially. She won it two years ago and now she has finished second twice. She met a better filly in Almond Eye, but Vivlos fought very hard for me to the end. Also I want to say well done to the connections because they were thinking about retiring her, but they wanted to try here once again as they know she likes Meydan so much.”
Daniel Tudhope, who rode Lord Glitters in third: “We thought coming into the race, he’d run very well. He’d been training very well at home. We think he’s improving and he’s going to be a nicer horse this year. We’re delighted with that. We were beaten by a very good filly, she’s world class.”
Trainer David O’Meara on Lord Glitters: “We’re delighted with him. You’re familiar with some of the milers we’ve taken around the world and he’s probably better than them.
“We were delighted with that run tonight. I thought it was a fantastic effort. Obviously, the Japanese filly (Almond Eye) and Vivlos had won and placed in this race before and they bring a very high level of form here. We’ve beaten the rest of them very well. I’m delighted with him.
“The plan was just to hold him up and get him to settle. Sometimes he can be a bit keen in his races and we had an idea we might end up behind her (Almond Eye.) It wasn’t the plan to follow her, but I thought Danny gave the horse a lovely ride and we had every chance. We were just beaten by two horses that were better than us on the day.”
“We might run him in the Lockinge ([G1] on May 18 at Newbury) next. I’ll speak with Geoff (Turnbull) and see what he wants to do. I’d like to run him in the Juddmonte (International [G1] August 21) at York.”
Jockey Christophe Soumillon on an uncharacteristic Dream Castle in last: “He traveled well, but when I asked him to quicken on the turn there was nothing there. I don’t know why.”