December 4, 2021

Lys Gracieux routs Arima Kinen as Almond Eye falters

Lys Gracieux, with jockey Damian Lane, wins the Arima Kinen 2019 (Tomoya Moriuchi/Horsephotos.com)

A star distaffer ran away with Sunday’s Arima Kinen (G1) at Nakayama – not hot favorite Almond Eye, but 5-1 second choice Lys Gracieux. Fresh off her coup in Australia’s weight-for-age championship, the Cox Plate (G1), Lys Gracieux lifted Japan’s prestigious prize to bow out on a high.

Fans had kept faith in Almond Eye despite her recent fever that caused her to miss the December 8 Hong Kong Cup (G1). Reports indicated that she was in fine fettle for this engagement, sparking hopes of a performance similar to her brilliant display in the October 27 Tenno Sho Autumn (G1) last out.

Dispatched at odds of 1-2, Almond Eye traveled a bit too keenly on the outside. Regular pilot Christophe Lemaire tried to switch her off well behind the rollicking pace set by Aerolithe, who was opening up on the field. Meanwhile, Lys Gracieux was conserving all of her energy on the rail for Damian Lane.

Midway on the far turn, Aerolithe was a spent force. Her nearest pursuers, Stiffelio and Al Ain, soon hunted her down, only to succumb themselves in short order. Almond Eye advanced into contention, but without her customary authority, and the rallying Fierement and Saturnalia packed a stronger punch.

Yet neither could live with the unleashed Lys Gracieux. Angling out for the drive, she blew past fellow U. Carrot colorbearer Saturnalia so quickly that the race was over by midstretch. Lys Gracieux drew off by five lengths, clocking her last three furlongs in a field-best :34.7, and Lane was already celebrating in the saddle as the Yoshito Yahagi trainee crossed the wire.

By finishing about 1 9/16 miles on the firm course in 2:30.5, Lys Gracieux emulated sire Heart’s Cry, who famously upended Deep Impact in the 2005 Arima Kinen. And according to the Japan Racing Association, she became the 10th horse to turn the Takarazuka Kinen (G1)/Arima Kinen double in the same year. Four more have won both over the course of their career. No female, however, had accomplished the feat until Sunday.

“Obviously, I went into the race thinking Almond Eye would be hard to beat,” Lane said, “but I just had so much confidence in this horse, the way she improved out of the Takarazuka Kinen into the Cox Plate and Yahagi-san said she’s improved again. I just knew she was going to run a big race. It was a really good pace and I found a lovely spot back in the rail. I didn’t know what sort of track I was going to get, but a space opened up and she did the rest.”

Saturnalia held off another sophomore, the late-charging World Premiere, by a neck for runner-up honors. Fierement dropped back to fourth, followed by Kiseki, who got off slowly; Cheval Grand; Rey de Oro; Velox; the fading Almond Eye; Etario; Al Ain; Suave Richard; Stiffelio; Aerolithe; Scarlet Color; and Crocosmia.

Lemaire believed that Almond Eye lost the race early on.

“She was physically fit and in good condition, but she couldn’t keep her calm before the crowd in the first lap and lost her rhythm,” Lemaire said. “She was unable to relax and was tired as it was a 2,500-meter race.”

Lys Gracieux, Japan’s champion older mare of 2018 who has presumably clinched more year-end honors for this term, retires with a record of 22-7-8-4. Aside from hitting a Group 1 triple in her last three, the dark bay scored in the 2018 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1) at Kyoto and Tokyo Shimbun Hai (G3) as well as the 2016 Artemis (G3) at two. She was second in five top-level events – the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies (G1), a pair of 2017 classics in the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) (G1) and Shuka Sho (G1), and last year’s Victoria Mile (G1) and Hong Kong Vase (G1). Lys Gracieux opened her five-year-old campaign with a pair of placings, a second in the March 10 Kinko Sho (G2) and a third in the April 28 QE II Cup (G1) back at Sha Tin, before reaching full flower.

Bred by Northern Farm, Lys Gracieux is out of the multiple French stakes scorer Liliside, by American Post, from the family of Group 1 winners Robin of Navan and Lily’s Candle. Lys Gracieux sports three crosses of Lyphard, who sired the second dams of both Heart’s Cry and Liliside, and appears further back as the broodmare sire of Bering, sire of American Post.

Heart's Cry pedigreeLiliside pedigree

Lys Gracieux’s pedigree includes three crosses of Lyphard