It’s all smiles for jockey Christophe Lemaire with Almond Eye after their victory.
TOKYO – Silk Racing’s brilliant 5-year-old mare Almond Eye (JPN) took control of Sunday’s 1-mile, US$2.1 million Victoria Mile (G1) at Tokyo Racecourse in the final 2 furlongs and cruised to victory by 4 lengths over Sound Chiara (JPN), and gained an automatic berth into the Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) through the international Breeders’ Cup Challenge.
The Breeders’ Cup Challenge is an international series of stakes races whose winners receive automatic starting positions and fees paid into a corresponding race of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which will be held at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky, on Nov. 6-7.
Almond Eye, trained by Sakae Kunieda and ridden by Christophe Lemaire, claimed the 15th Victoria Mile in 1:30.6, only 0.1 seconds off the track record, and secured a (Japanese) record-tying seventh Group 1 win. She joins Mauritzfontein (Pty) Ltd., Mrs. M F de Kock and partners’ Queen Supreme (IRE), winner of the Paddock Stakes (G1) on Jan. 11 at Kenilworth Race Course in South Africa, as the first two horses to earn free berths into the Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf.
As part of the benefits of the Challenge Series, Breeders’ Cup will pay the entry fees for Almond Eye, to start in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, which will be run at 1 3/16 miles over the Keeneland turf course. Breeders’ Cup also will provide a minimum travel allowance of US$40,000 for all starters based outside of North America to compete in the World Championships.
Favored at 7-5, Almond Eye, by Lord Kanaloa (JPN) out of the Sunday Silence mare Fusaichi Pandora (JPN), broke smoothly in the field of 16 fillies and mares, [Dimension (JPN) and Therapeia (JPN) were both scratched] and settled in good position around sixth from the frontrunner, Trois Etoiles (JPN), who set a rapid pace. Chasing Sound Chiara through most of the trip, Almond Eye edged forward turning the corners, entered the lane fourth from the front and delivered a powerful drive through the homestretch. She easily overtook the front horses by the 200-meter pole and ran away for her ninth win in 12 starts.
“I think she’s matured well, as she was relaxed from the paddock to the start of the race,” said Lemaire. “I was able to position her behind Sound Chiara and race her in her own rhythm without getting any pressure from the outside. She felt good during the race and displayed her powerful strides at the end. She’s a legend horse and will surely win more G1 races going forward.”
Sound Chiara, fourth in the wagering at 12-1, also broke well from the outermost stall and traveled in third rounding the corners. Though overtaken by Almond Eye 300 meters out, the Deep Impact (JPN) mare ran tenaciously in the lane, nailing Trois Etoiles in the last 100 meters and holding off the fast-closing Normcore (JPN), the defending champion, before the wire for second place. Breaking slowly from stall 16, Normcore traveled in mid-pack, around 6-7th-place from the front, and displayed an impressive turn of speed that timed the second-fastest in the last three furlongs to cross the wire in third, just a neck behind the runner-up.
The Victoria Mile victory added more laurels to Almond Eye’s remarkable career. Her seventh turf G1 title ties her with all-time Japanese greats Symboli Rudolf (JPN), T.M. Opera O (JPN), Deep Impact (JPN), Vodka (JPN), Gentildonna (JPN) and Kitasan Black (JPN).
In her 2018 Horse of the Year campaign, Almond Eye captured the Japanese Fillies’ Triple Crown—the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas, 1,600m G1), the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks, 2,400m, G1) and the Shuka Sho (2,000m, G1) — and the Japan Cup (G1) title in her 3-year-old season. Last year, she claimed the Dubai Turf (1,800m, G1) and the Tenno Sho (Autumn) (2,000m, G1).
Almond Eye closed out 2019 with her only off-the-board finish, placing ninth as the 1-2 favorite in the 1 9/16-mile Arima Kinen (G1) on Dec. 22 at Nakayama. The Victoria Mile was Almond Eye’s first start after returning from the UAE for her intended title defense in the Dubai Turf at Meydan, which was canceled because of the Coronavirus.
The Victoria Mile was the second of four Breeders’ Cup Challenge races to be held in Japan this year. On Feb. 23, Capital System’s 6-year-old Mozu Ascot won the February Stakes (G1) at Tokyo and earned this year’s first automatic berth into the $7 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). The two other Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series races to be run in Japan in 2020 will be the Yasuda Kinen (G1) at Tokyo on June 7, for an automatic berth into the TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), and the Takarazuka Kinen (G1) at Hanshin Racecourse on June 28, with the winner gaining a free berth into the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).
Breeders’ Cup News Release