August 10, 2022

Almond Eye reverts to mile in Yasuda Kinen, Breeders’ Cup WAYI

Almond Eye under Christophe Lemaire triumphs in the Dubai Turf (G1) at Meydan on March 30, 2019 (c) Dubai Racing Club/Mathea Kelley

Japanese Horse of the Year Almond Eye, last seen landing the Dubai Turf (G1) on World Cup night, shortens up to take on specialist milers in Sunday’s Yasuda Kinen (G1) at Tokyo. Although the prestigious contest serves as a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), a victory by Almond Eye would not send her to Santa Anita in November.

Indeed, connections have decided to keep the sensational filly closer to home after she needed time to recover from the effects of her Dubai round trip. With a hoped-for Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) tilt ruled out this fall, Almond Eye reportedly has the October 27 Tenno Sho (Autumn) (G1) at Tokyo on her agenda. So no Breeders’ Cup attempt is in the offing.

Any question about Almond Eye’s current condition is dispelled by watching her final work, shared by Graham Pavey (@LongBallToNoOne) on Twitter:

Almond Eye is easily the highest-rated runner in the Yasuda Kinen, but she hasn’t raced over a metric mile since her dazzler in last spring’s Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) (G1). The Sakae Kunieda trainee stretched out to conquer the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) (G1), completed Japan’s Fillies’ Triple Crown in the Shuka Sho (G1), and defeated older males in a record-setting Japan Cup (G1). She had no problem shortening up to about nine furlongs in the Dubai Turf, where she extended her winning streak to seven. Regular pilot Christophe Lemaire figures to ride her with the usual confidence.

To emulate sire Lord Kanaloa’s victory in the 2013 edition, however, Almond Eye must cut back in trip again while stepping right into the wheelhouse of some noteworthy rivals, from rising stars to the divisional establishment.

Danon Premium, like Almond Eye, has lost only once in his career, and that was a sixth in the about 1 1/2-mile Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) last year. Hero of the 2017 Saudi Arabia Royal Cup (G3) over this course, in a juvenile-record time of 1:33.0, Danon Premium next scored his biggest win in the Asahi Hai Futurity (G1). The Deep Impact colt is two-for-two this campaign, taking the March 10 Kinko Sho (G2) in his comeback and adding the Yomiuri Milers Cup (G2) over Guanciale.

Defending Yasuda Kinen champion Mozu Ascot, and near-misser Aerolithe, renew rivalry. Mozu Ascot, a Kentucky-bred son of Frankel, hasn’t hit the board in his past three, but a return to Tokyo could spark a revival. The same point holds for Aerolithe, who has been out of luck since beating males here in last October’s Mainichi Okan (G2). Ninth in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) where the yielding ground didn’t help, Aerolithe is eligible to move forward off her fifth in the Victoria Mile (G1).

Stelvio, twice runner-up to Danon Premium as a juvenile and second to Aerolithe in the Mainichi Okan, stepped up to dethrone older Persian Knight in last November’s Mile Championship (G1). Aerolithe and Mozu Ascot didn’t put their best foot forward at Kyoto that day, winding up 12th and 13th, so the bare form isn’t taken literally. Yet Stelvio, by Almond Eye’s sire Lord Kanaloa, continues to have upside. Narrowly beaten when third in the Nakayama Kinen (G2) two back, Stelvio should appreciate dropping back down in trip after trailing in the Osaka Hai (G1). Note that he picks up Australian jockey Damian Lane.

Persian Knight and Sungrazer, 11th and 12th in the same about 10-furlong feature, are also eligible to return to their best. While no match for Beauty Generation when fifth in the Hong Kong Mile (G1) last December, Persian Knight didn’t miss second by much in a blanket finish for the minors, and a repeat of that would put him right there. Sungrazer, a close third in Persian Knight’s Mile Championship in 2017, performed well over longer in the second half of 2018. Aside from a score in the Sapporo Kinen (G2), Sungrazer was second in the Tenno Sho Autumn and fourth in the Hong Kong Cup (G1).

Australian-bred Fiano Romano burst onto the scene by capturing a three-way photo in the March 30 Lord Derby Challenge Trophy (G3), and now takes his Grade 1 test. Indy Champ had won three straight, capped by the course-and-distance Tokyo Shimbun Hai (G3), before a fourth to Danon Premium in the Yomiuri Milers Cup. Other contenders include last year’s NHK Mile (G1) winner Keiai Nautique, yet to handle the transition to open company; multiple Grade 3 scorer Logi Cry, most recently third in Tower of London’s record-setting Keio Hai Spring Cup (G2) going a furlong shorter; and Grade 2 veteran Smart Odin, seventh in the same prep.

Carded as the 11TH at Tokyo, the Yasuda Kinen is scheduled to go off at 3:40 p.m. local time Sunday, so 2:40 a.m. (EDT) late Saturday night/early Sunday morning.