Outstanding mare Almond Eye has retired after regaining her Japan Cup (G1) crown, but her form looms large over Sunday’s Arima Kinen (G1) at Nakayama. Of 16 entered in the prestigious $6 million event, eight are coming off a loss to the great champion, including three of the top four in the early betting.
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Fierement, trading as the 2.70-1 favorite as of 5:30 p.m. local time Saturday, was a rattling second to Almond Eye in the Nov. 1 Tenno Sho Autumn (G1). By finishing his last three furlongs in the about 1 1/4-mile test in :32.7, Fierement proved that he’s not just a long-distance specialist. The hero of the 2018 Kikuka Sho (Japanese St Leger) (G1), and the past two runnings of the Tenno Sho Spring (G1) over two metric miles, was a respectable fourth in the 2019 Arima Kinen. That came in the wake of a trailing effort in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), so a more straightforward preparation at home this fall could make a significant difference. Christophe Lemaire rides from post 13.
Chrono Genesis, third in the Tenno Sho Autumn, already sports a major win over males in the June 28 Takarazauka Kinen (G1). Six lengths clear of veteran Kiseki and Mozu Bello that day at Hanshin, she seeks to turn the Takarazuka/Arima Kinen double achieved last year by Lys Gracieux. Chrono Genesis would also complete a remarkable half-sibling double: her half-sister Normcore just captured the Dec. 13 Hong Kong Cup (G1). Note that the about 1 9/16-mile trip is new territory for Chrono Genesis, whose only foray in this vicinity was a third in the 2019 Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) (G1). But she’s progressed since, landing her first Grade 1 in last fall’s Shuka Sho (G1) and coming up a neck shy of Lucky Lilac in the Apr. 5 Osaka Hai (G1).
Lucky Lilac is the exception among the Arima Kinen principals, in that she doesn’t have recent form with Almond Eye. Yet her sophomore season was spent laboring in Almond Eye’s shadow, as she placed in the first two fillies’ classics in 2018. Lucky Lilac has gone on to take back-to-back runnings of the Queen Elizabeth 2 Cup (G1), most recently defending her title at Kyoto Nov. 15, and she likewise has held her own versus males. Aside from her Osaka Hai victory, Lucky Lilac was runner-up in the 2019 Hong Kong Vase (G1) in her last try at about 1 1/2 miles. The daughter of Orfevre is that rare performer – a star juvenile (the champion 2-year-old filly of 2017) who has excelled over the years.
Another distaffer attracting market support, Curren Bouquetd’or, is still looking for her first graded win after a series of top-level placings. Fourth to Almond Eye and current Triple Crown sweepers Contrail and Daring Tact in the Nov. 29 Japan Cup, Curren Bouquetd’or was second in the same Tokyo feature a year ago. She came awfully close in the 2019 Yushun Himba to Loves Only You, as well as chasing Chrono Genesis a couple of times.
Perhaps the value in the Arima Kinen is World Premiere (10-1), an encouraging sixth in the Japan Cup off an 11-month layoff. Last year’s Kikuka Sho victor had not raced since his third to Lys Gracieux and Saturnalia in the 2019 Arima Kinen, and his comeback run should put him spot on to do at least as well here.
Others exiting the Japan Cup are the aforementioned Kiseki, who tired to eighth after setting an unsustainable pace; You Can Smile, eligible to turn the page from his uncharacteristic 12th; and 13th Crescendo Love.
The remaining entrant beaten by Almond Eye last out is Blast Onepiece, 10th in the Tenno Sho Autumn. Clinching champion 3-year-old colt honors in the 2018 Arima Kinen, Blast Onepiece has been largely disappointing since. But he is 2-for-2 at Nakayama, his last win coming in the Jan. 26 American Jockey Club Cup (G2).
Considering the quality of the 2020 classic crop, Authority warrants a close look, and a similar point applies to Babbitt. Authority was sidelined by injury after capturing a classic trial, but returned triumphant versus elders in the Nov. 8 Copa Repubblica Argentina (G2). While Babbitt faces a bigger question after flopping in the Oct. 25 Kikuka Sho, where he was expected to be one of the main challengers to Contrail, he had won four in a row including the St Lite Kinen (G2) over this course.
Salacia arrives on the upswing, following her graded breakthrough in the Oct. 17 Fuchu Himba (G2) and near-miss to Lucky Lilac in the QE2, with Loves Only You third. Persian Knight, who scored his signature win in the 2017 Mile Championship (G1), takes a swing at his longest distance so far. He’s proven capable at about 1 1/4 miles in the past, an idea renewed by his splitting Normcore and Lucky Lilac in the Aug. 23 Sapporo Kinen (G2), but this is a stiffer stamina question. Ocea Great has the opposite profile, turning back in trip after upsetting the about 2 1/4-mile Stayers S. (G2) here.
Post time for the Arima Kinen, the 11th race, is 1:25 a.m. (ET).