By Nicholas Godfrey
Japan: It is Guineas weekend in Britain but in pure quality terms the best race probably takes place in Japan as superstar racemare Almond Eye (Sakae Kunieda/Christophe Lemaire) takes on a top-class field in the Yasuda Kinen.
After a superb four-length victory on her seasonal debut three weeks ago in the Victoria Mile, the brilliant five-year-old bids to repeat the dose over the same course and distance in Tokyo on Sunday.
Almond Eye is sure to start odds-on as she seeks her eighth G1 victory in the hugely prestigious Yasuda Kinen (7.40am BST) at a venue where her career record stands at five wins from six outings.
That sole defeat, however, came in last year’s edition of this ¥252 million (£1.82m) contest, though there were mitigating circumstances as Almond Eye met minor interference after the start before charging down the straight to be beaten only a neck in a tight finish.
Almond Eye gets 2kg (4.5lb) from her male counterparts but as brilliant as she was in the Victoria Mile, this looks a much tougher assignment featuring Japan’s top specialist milers, headed by underrated Indy Champ (Hidetaka Otonashi/Yuichi Fukunaga), the horse who beat her 12 months ago.
Also carrying the colours of Silk Racing, he won the G1 Mile Championship at Kyoto in the autumn of 2019 and comes here after winning the G2 Yomiuri Milers Cup – the same prep he had last year for the Yasuda, when he was only fourth in the Yomiuri.
Admire Mars (Yasuo Tomomichi/Yuga Kawada) has three G1 victories to his name at this distance, latterly the Hong Kong Mile at Sha Tin in December; after an abortive trip to Dubai, he hasn’t run since.
Normcore (Kiyoshi Hagiwara/Norihiro Yokoyama), was behind Almond Eye last time, while Danon Premium (Mitsumasa Nakauchida/Damian Lane) is drawn on the rail as he cuts back to a mile after failing to stay in testing conditions behind Addeybb in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Randwick in Sydney.
On the other hand, Classic winner Gran Alegria (Kasuo Fujisawa/Kenichi Ikezoe) moves back up to the mile at which she won last year’s Oka Sho (Japanese 1,000 Guineas).
Yasuda Kinen betting
Paddy Power: 4-7 Almond Eye, 9-2 Indy Champ, 7 Danon Kingly, 8 Gran Alegria, 10 Danon Premium, 11 Admire Mars, 28 Normcore, 40 bar.
Shall we talk about it?
“After Dubai was cancelled, he returned about a week later, then went through quarantine. I had Yuga Kawada push him hard on May 27 working over the woodchip course with two other horses and it was a good, hard workout. It’ll be six months since his last race but you couldn’t tell that from looking at him. He seems to have got taller since returning from Dubai and is definitely bigger all round. A decent pace would be good for him.”
Yasuo Tomomichi (trainer)
“Last year, up against male horses in the Yasuda Kinen, a lot happened, but she did run well. She looked good (in the Victoria Mile) and she’s come out of that race well. It’s her first time with so little time between starts but mentally she’s very relaxed and very calm. Looking at her fast work this week, I’d say there’s nothing to worry about. She’s always moved well in work but I had her work with a partner and told the rider if that horse wasn’t moving well to just move ahead early. It was an ideal workout. If she can get a run like she had in the Victoria Mile, that will be ideal.”
Sakae Kunieda (trainer)
“I think he has matured. In track work he is moving well from the start, perhaps a little too well, but he does feel good. He has a great turn of foot and his responses are good, those are his two best points.”
Keita Tosaki (jockey)
“The going was really bad in Australia and he was tired by the end but he’s showing no signs of fatigue from his trip. Actually, I think he’s a bit more on his toes now than he was then. He’s on his game. His weight last week was 508 kg and I feel he’s about the same as he was before going overseas. Physically, I see no problems. He’s a strong horse and I hope he’ll run solidly to the end.”
Teruhiko Saruhashi (assistant trainer)
“Last out in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen, she did really well up against male horses and older horses. But, it was her first time over 1,200m and she was at a bit of a loss. This time, she’s used to the distance. The field is strong but she has raced at Tokyo a number of times before and I don’t think she’ll have any problems. She’s won an all-female G1 but she hasn’t done well up against male horses. The bar is high this time, but I’m hoping she’ll give it her best.”
Kazuo Fujisawa (trainer)
“Physically, he seems to have fully matured from last autumn. He has really good acceleration and I think the mile is his limit. He is better from the gate now and he’s able to use that acceleration to get a good position now, which is a big plus. He’s also able to handle a slow place. His strength is his versatility.”
Yuichi Fukunaga (jockey)
• More about Japanese racing at the JRA website