By Nicholas Godfrey
Japan: Japan’s number one racehorse Almond Eye returns to action on Sunday in Tokyo with jockey Christophe Lemaire full of confidence about the chances of a successful comeback for the six-time G1 heroine.
After an abortive trip to Meydan where the abandonment of the Dubai World Cup card owing to coronavirus meant she could not defend her crown in the Dubai Turf, the five-year-old makes her seasonal debut in the Victoria Mile, the second of five G1 events over consecutive weekends at Tokyo racecourse.
Speaking on Sky Sports Racing, Lemaire issued an update on her progress. “Unfortunately because of corona I was not able to go to the training centre to ride her but I could see her trackwork and I had a chat with her trainer Mr Kunieda and he is very happy with the filly,” said the jockey.
“She’s got stronger again in terms of physical condition and although it will be her first run this year, I think she’ll put in a great performance.”
Almond Eye, who is drawn 12 of 18 (now 17 after a scratch) in the ¥204,960,000 (£1.57m) event, was last seen in action with a below-par effort when only ninth of 16 behind Lys Gracieux in Japan’s season-ending grand prix, the Arima Kinen, at Nakayama over the Christmas period.
However, that race is over a distance in excess of her optimum, and she cuts back fully 4½ furlongs for her reappearance in the Victoria Mile, in which she is likely to a handful of fellow top-level scorers – notably last year’s Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) winner Loves Only You (drawn one).
After a period of quarantine on her return from Dubai, Almond Eye returned to Sakae Kunieda’s stable on April 30.
Lemaire added: “She faces only fillies and mares on Sunday — some very good ones — but Almond Eye is a special horse, a champion horse, so I’m not afraid at all. I’m very confident to win the race actually.”
Last seen losing her unbeaten record when third in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Kyoto in November, Loves Only You will be making her four-year-old debut in Sunday’s contest, in which in-form Mirco Demuro rides for Lys Gracieux’s trainer Yoshito Yahagi.
“The horse looks very powerful and I think she can be effective over a mile,” said Yahagi’s assistant Shigeki Miyauchi.
For the first time, the Victoria Mile is part of the Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In’ Challenge, offering a fees-paid berth in the Filly & Mare Turf at Keeneland.
Others set to run include last year’s winner Normcore plus Sound Chiara (drawn widest of all in 18), looking to complete a hat-trick after a pair of victories in lesser grade already is 2020.
Victoria Mile betting
William Hill: 4-6 Almond Eye, 5 Loves Only You, 13-2 Sound Chiara, 10 Normcore, 14 Danon Fantasy, Primo Scene, 16 bar.
Shall we talk about it?
“Everything’s been fine with her since returning from Dubai, and although she only came back from the farm to Miho recently, she’s in good condition. She’s relaxed, and last week in training all went well, and in her last piece of trackwork this week, she finished off strongly. Mentally she’s in the right place too. In last year’s Yasuda Kinen, she had trouble at the start, but generally you have to say the Tokyo mile suits her, and that even off a fast pace, she can get into a good position in the race.” Sakae Kunieda (trainer)
“She recently weighed about 480kg and looked a bit leaner. She should come on for her last race and her racing ability now is better than it was previously. The mile is probably her best trip, and racing left-handed presents no problem at all. She should be able to show what a powerful horse she is.” Teruhiko Saruhashi (assistant trainer)
Loves Only You
“She’s become a lot more mature now. Her reactions and movement have been good in training, and she’s adjusted well going into this race. On her breeding, I think you can say a mile wouldn’t be a problem. With the condition she’s in, I think she’s capable of running a good race over this distance.” Shigeki Miyauchi (assistant trainer)
“It was misty during her last trackwork, and the track was a bit heavy, but talking to the jockey afterwards, he said that she moved well and is in good condition, which she has maintained since her last race. There are a lot of strong horses in the race this time, but I’m able to look at it with confidence, particularly after her winning performance last year in record time.” Kiyoshi Hagiwara (trainer)
“Things are not so different with her, although mentally she’s improved and she seems physically in better shape. She always tries her best as we’ve seen with her three good runs this year. She has raced at Tokyo and going left-handed is fine for her. I think she has a chance here.” Akio Adachi (trainer)
• More about Japanese racing at the JRA website