Almond Eye & Normcore Look To Score Berth In Breeders’ Cup Via Japan

May 15, 2020

Photo: Almond Eye- Credit: Breeders’ Cup

Almond Eye and Normcore lead Sunday’s Victoria Mile in Japan for an automatic berth into the Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf

TOKYO – Multiple Group 1 stakes winner Almond Eye (JPN) and defending champion Normcore (JPN) lead an outstanding field of 17 fillies and mares for Sunday’s 1-mile, US$2.1 million Victoria Mile (G1) at Tokyo Race Course, with the winner receiving 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. 

The Victoria Mile will be televised live on TVG at 11:40 p.m. PT on Saturday. 

As part of the benefits of the Challenge Series, Breeders’ Cup will pay the entry fees for the Victoria Mile winner to start in the Maker’s Mark 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. If not Breeders’ Cup eligible, the Challenge winner must be nominated to the Breeders’ Cup program by the pre-entry deadline of Oct. 26 to receive the rewards.

The Victoria Mile, new to the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series, will be run in a counterclockwise direction.

Silk Racing Co’s 5-year-old mare Almond Eye has won 8 of 11 career races, including six Group 1 scores. She won the Japanese Fillies Triple Crown and the Japan Cup (G1) in 2018 and was named the nation’s Horse of the Year.  She was being pointed to returning to the United Arab Emirates in March to defend her title in the Dubai Turf (G1), before the Dubai World Cup night races were cancelled because of the Coronavirus. So her 2020 debut comes on Sunday. Almond Eye closed out 2019 with her only off-the-board finish of her career, finishing ninth as the 1-2 favorite in the 1 9/16-mile Arima Kinen (G1) on Dec. 22 at Nakayama.

In addition to winning the Dubai Turf, Almond Eye, a bay daughter of Lord Kanaloa (JPN) out of the Sunday Silence mare Fusaichi Pandora, also won the 1 1/4-mile Tenno Sho (Autumn) (G1) over the Tokyo course on Oct. 27. She will be ridden by Christophe Lemaire.

“After her unfortunate result last year in the Arima Kinen, she still traveled to Dubai, but because of the cancellation there, she returned to Japan and saw out the quarantine, before going to Northern Farm Tenei,” said her trainer Sakae Kunieda to “She came back to the stable on April 30, and not having had a recent race, she’s not tired at all and is in good condition.”

Seiichi Iketani’s 5-year-old gray Normcore won last May’s Victoria Mile by a neck at 8-1, surging to the front in the last 50 yards in a blanket finish. Trained by Kiyoshi Hagiwara and ridden by Norihiro Yokoyama, Normcore followed up her Victoria Mile triumph by taking the 1-mile Fuji Stakes (G3) on Oct. 19 at Tokyo by a half-length. In December, she was shipped to Sha Tin for the Longines Hong Kong Mile (G1), where she ran a very credible fourth in open company, beaten just two lengths for it all. 

However, the bay daughter of Harbinger (GB) did not start 2020 on a high note, finishing 15th of 18 runners in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen (G1) at Chukyo on March 29 at 6 furlongs over a yielding course.

“The Takamatsunomiya Kinen was her first race since Hong Kong, and although her closing time was not so bad, I didn’t think she’d run like she did over 1,200 meters,” said Hagiwara. “Since then she’s had a break at the farm, returning to the stable on April 29. All being well, from now she’ll get tuned up and be in similar condition as she was for the race last year.” 

Sunday will be the first start of the year for lightly raced Loves Only You (JPN) for DMM Dream Club Co. and trainer Yoshito Yahagi. A winner of 4 of 5 starts, Loves Only You, ridden by Mirco Demuro, made her biggest  score winning the 1 ½-mile Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) at Tokyo last May. Loves Only You, an impeccably bred 4-year-old by Deep Impact (JPN) out of the Storm Cat mare Loves Only Me, suffered her first career defeat in the 1 3/8-mile Queen Elizabeth 2 Cup (G1) against 3-year-old fillies at Kyoto on Nov. 10, finishing third, beaten 1 ½ lengths. 

Assistant trainer Shigeki Miyauchi is impressed with her current condition. “She came back to the stable on April 29, and the next day she worked under jockey Ryusei Sakai. The horse looks very powerful and I think she can be effective over a mile.” 

Another daughter of Deep Impact with impressive credentials is Yuichi Masuda’s 5-year-old Sound Chiara (JPN). After finishing seventh in last year’s Victoria Mile, she has won 4 of 5 since then, including three group stakes this year, the last one being the 1-mile Sankei Sports  Hai Hanshin Himba Stakes (G2) at Hanshin on April 11. “She’s been at the stable since her win in the Hanshin Himba Stakes, and she’s relaxed and has come out of that race well. She’s been able to put in good performances in her races and that’s a real plus,” said trainer Akio Adachi. Kohei Matsuyama will ride Sound Chiara.

Danox Co.’s 4-year-old filly Danon Fantasy (JPN), ridden by Yuga Kawada, is another Group 1 winner in the field, having captured the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies as a 2-year-old. A winner of five of her 10 starts for trainer Mitsumasa Nakauchida, this daughter of Deep Impact won the 1 1/8-mile Hanshin Rose Stakes (G2) last September. She has been off the board in two starts this year, and was favored in her most recent start, the Himba Stakes, but wound up fifth, beaten two lengths.    

Also of interest is Koji Maeda’s Scarlet Color (JPN), trained by Ryo Takahashi and ridden by Shu Ishibashi. The 5-year-old bay daughter of Victoire Pisa finished second to Sound Ciara last time out in the Himba Stakes.    

Hideaki Fugiwara’s Dimension (JPN) was a late scratch. 

The Victoria Mile is the second of four Breeders’ Cup Challenge races to be held in Japan this year. On February 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).  

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