By Nicholas Godfrey
Japan: Superstar racemare Almond Eye had to settle for second as last year’s Oka Sho (Japanese 1,000 Guineas) winner Gran Alegria (Kasuo Fujisawa/Kenichi Ikezoe) ran out a convincing, clear-cut winner of the Yasuda Kinen at Tokyo racecourse.
Seeking her eighth victory at G1 level against a stellar group of top-class rivals, Almond Eye was sent off 3-10 favourite for the ¥252 million (£1.82m) contest on Sunday.
But she had been beaten after a slow break in last year’s Yasuda Kinen and she failed to overcome a similar scenario this time around in the mile contest where she had to be produced from well back after a tardy beginning.
After racing near the back of a 14-runner field, Almond Eye was moved out as they entered the straight but it still took a few strides for her to find daylight, after which she charged home down the middle.
However, although she finished well, she was making little inroad into the margin established by impressive winner Gran Alegria.
“We had a poor break but I think we recovered well and made a smooth and strong bid turning for home with Gran Alegria in sight,” said Almond Eye’s rider Christophe Lemaire. “She showed her good turn of foot but she could have done better. The winner was just so strong, it wasn’t our day.”
Gran Alegria was returned at 11-1 as she scored decisively by 2½ lengths. The daughter of Deep Impact showed an explosive turn of foot in the straight as she stepped back up to a mile after 13 months during which she had been campaigned exclusively in sprints.
“I was focused on keeping her in a good rhythm and in a good position which all worked out beautifully,” said winning jockey Kenichi Ikezoe.
“I was afraid up to the line that we were going to be caught, especially by Almond Eye, but she gave me such a tenacious run down the stretch,” added Ikezoe, left with a black eye after the race.
“I hurt myself when a clod of grass hit my eye at the third turn, but it doesn’t hurt at all now!” he explained.
Another half-length away in third was Indy Champ, who had beaten Almond Eye a neck in the 2019 edition.
The Yasuda Kinen is part of the Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In’ Challenge offering a fees-paid berth to the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
• More about Japanese racing at the JRA website