Japan Cup: Almond Eye Bows Out With Victory In Battle Of Triple Crown Winners

Almond Eye reprised her triumph in the Japan Cup from a 2018 Horse of the Year campaign by defeating the undefeated duo of Triple Crown winner Contrail and  filly Triple Crown winner Daring Tact in Sunday’s 40th edition of the Grade 1 international classic at a mostly empty Tokyo Race Course in Tokyo, Japan.

Ridden by Christophe Lemaire, the 5-year-old mare by Lord Kanaloa (a grandson of the former Lane’s End stallion Kingmambo) charged to the lead in the final furlong, overtaking front-runner Kiseki – who had opened up as much as a 20-length advantage – and easily holding off Contrail by 1 ¼ lengths. Daring Silk was a neck back in third in the field of 15 that included just one international competitor, Way to Paris, who finished 10th after delaying the start by refusing to be loaded into the starting gate.

For Almond Eye, it was the perfect way to end a career that included a record eight Grade 1 victories in Japan (plus one in Dubai) and career earnings of 1,915,263,900 (approximately $18.4 million). She won 11 of 15 starts overall with two seconds and one third. Among her victories were the three filly Triple Crown races in 2018, making this the first race in Japan featuring three Triple Crown winners.

Almond Eye ran the 2,400 meters (1 ½ miles) on a firm but visibly chewed up turf course in 2:23.0, more than two seconds slower than the course record of 2:20.6 she established in 2018.

Bred in Japan by Katsumi Yoshida’s Northern Racing, Almond Eye races for the Silk Racing Co. Ltd. racing club and is trained by Sakae Kunieda. She was produced from the stakes-winning Sunday Silence mare Fusaichi Pandora, whose grandam, Sex Appeal (by Buckpasser), produced two European champions, El Gran Senor and Try My Best. Sex Appeal was produced from Best in Show (by Traffic Judge), a broodmare of the year whose other foals included Kentucky Oaks winner Blush With Pride. The latter’s foals included Better Than Honour, dam of two Belmont Stakes winners and a broodmare of the year herself.

Yoshida indicated Almond Eye will be bred in 2021, possibly to Epiphaneia, the 2014 Japan Cup winner standing at the Yoshida family’s Shadai Stallion Station. Epiphaneia is a son of Symboli Kris S, a grandson of Roberto. He was produced from Cesario, a daughter of the Sunday Silence stallion Special Week who came to the U.S. to win the Grade 1 American Oaks Invitational at Hollywood Park in 2005.

“Since this was her final start, it was very special for me and I’m thrilled we were able to win,” said Lemaire. “After winning the Victoria Mile in the spring, we had three weeks to get her prepared for the Yasuda Kinen in which she was second. She had an extra week this time and was tuned up beautifully. She was relaxed in the gate, broke smoothly and was able to sit in a good position. The turf condition near the rails was much better than last week so I don’t think the inner draw was a problem. The pace was just right for her and she responded well in the stretch. The others closing in on us didn’t worry me at all. Almond Eye is a perfect mare and doesn’t have any weak points. Her career as a race horse ended today but I look forward to riding her children.”

Trainer Kunieda added: “She looked good since arriving at the racecourse—she has definitely matured mentally. We were worried about the rough going near the rails, but Christophe did a good job in finding a good path. The pace was ideal for Almond Eye and her response was totally different from that in the Tenno Sho (Autumn). Since expectations of an eighth G1 title were enormous in her last Tenno Sho start, we did feel pressure but today, all we wanted was for her to come back safe and sound. The victory is such a bonus, we couldn’t be happier. She has given us so much excitement and joy and it has been fulfilling to be a part of her career. It would be great if I could be involved in training her colt or filly someday.”

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Japan Racing Association limited attendance to just over 4,500 in the cavernous racecourse that typically attracts over 100,000 fans for major Grade 1 races like the Japan Cup. Wagering on the Japan Cup was approximately $262 million, with $357 million bet on the day’s program.

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