As if the star power of Almond Eye weren’t enough to boost Sunday’s Victoria Mile (G1), the $2.1 million feature at Tokyo has just been named a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) at Keeneland.
Japan’s 2018 Horse of the Year in honor of her flawless 3-year-old campaign, Almond Eye had mixed fortunes in 2019. The daughter of Lord Kanaloa proved she could take her game on the road in the Dubai Turf (G1), but wound up third after a troubled passage in the Yasuda Kinen (G1) at this track and trip. Almond Eye was back with a bang in the Oct. 27 Tenno Sho Autumn (G1), where she blitzed about 1 1/4 miles in 1:56.20.
That served notice of her intent for the Dec. 8 Hong Kong Cup (G1), until a fever scuttled her travel plans. Nevertheless, Almond Eye turned up for her devoted public in the Dec. 22 Arima Kinen (G1), only to turn in the worst race of her life in ninth. While jockey Christophe Lemaire reported that the crowd got her worked up, it’s worth wondering if she wasn’t quite as ready as connections hoped after her illness.
In March, Almond Eye made a fruitless trip to Dubai in hopes of defending her title at Meydan, but never got the chance when the World Cup was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike last spring, when the exertions of shipping and running tired her, trainer Sakae Kunieda believes that the 5-year-old mare is in grand order since she made the round trip without a race.
Now Almond Eye reverts to exclusively female company for the first time since sweeping Japan’s Fillies’ Triple Crown. Also 4-for-5 around Tokyo, and 3-for-4 at a metric mile, she should be very tough to beat. Lemaire will guide the favorite from post 12 in the 18-distaffer field.
Although Almond Eye is the class of the lot, three of her rivals bring serious credentials themselves – Loves Only You, a fellow classic winner; Danon Fantasy, another divisional champion; and the reigning titleholder, Normcore.
Loves Only You, last year’s Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) (G1) heroine, lost her perfect mark when third in Kyoto’s Queen Elizabeth 2 Cup (G1) in her Nov. 10 seasonal finale. The QE2 form was upheld recently as the top two, Lucky Lilac and Chrono Genesis, again furnished the exacta over males in the April 5 Osaka Hai (G1). Loves Only You won her only start at a mile, and as a full sister to 2016 Dubai Turf winner Real Steel, the Deep Impact filly is entitled to be effective at the distance. The descendant of Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) legend Miesque has drawn the rail with regular rider Mirco Demuro.
Defending champion Normcore owns the stakes record, clocking 1:30.5 while edging Primo Scene a year ago. A fine fourth versus males in the Hong Kong Mile (G1) two back, Normcore comes off a 15th in the major sprint at Chukyo, the Takamatsunomiya Kinen (G1). That’s a toss-out between the inadequate trip and the yielding ground. For whatever it’s worth, both repeat winners in the 14-year history of the Victoria Mile, Verxina (2013-14) and Straight Girl (2015-16), were entering in the wake of unplaced efforts.
Primo Scene, who captured the course-and-distance Tokyo Shumbun Hai (G3) two back, was most recently fifth versus males in the Lord Derby Challenge Trophy (G3) at Nakayama. One of nine in here by Deep Impact, Primo Scene is out of Australian multiple Group 1 queen Mosheen, and she picks up Australian jockey Damian Lane.
Danon Fantasy, the champion 2-year-old filly of 2018, had her winning streak snapped when fourth in the 2019 Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) (G1). The daughter of Deep Impact didn’t fare as well in the longer fillies’ classics, but her victory in the Rose (G2) last fall suggests she did train on from two to three. Danon Fantasy’s warm-up fifth in the April 11 Hanshin Himba (G2) isn’t a true bill, since she tipped the scales 22 kilos above her previous racing weight. Second off the layoff, Danon Fantasy could do much better.
Another Deep Impact, Sound Chiara, arrives in career-best form. Her three-race winning streak comprises a victory over males in the Kyoto Kimpai (G3) followed by the Kyoto Himba (G3) and the Hanshin Himba in her latest. Sound Chiara is marooned in post 18 on Sunday, however.
No fewer than 10 of the Victoria Mile entrants competed in the Hanshin Himba. Aside from Sound Chiara and Danon Fantasy, those renewing rivalry are runner-up Scarlet Color (winner of last fall’s Fuchu Himba [G2] here); third-placer Dimension (who was scratched Friday); fourth Beach Samba, a stakes bridesmaid who’s gone close a few times; ninth Satono Garnet, whose lone stakes win was an upset in the Dec. 7 Chunichi Shimbun Hai (G3) going longer; 11th Megere Su, whose dam Asian Winds won the 2008 Victoria Mile, but appears to have distance limitations; 12th Shadow Diva, eligible to run well on the change of venue to Tokyo; 15th Trois Etoiles, unplaced twice since her signature win in the Sept. 8 Keisei Hai Autumn H. (G3); and the trailer Shigeru Pink Dia, who placed in a pair of fillies’ classics last season, the Oka Sho and Shuka Sho (G1).
Rounding out the field are Contra Check, twice a Grade 3 winner at Nakayama who trailed there last out on desperate going; Arusha, the daughter of Deep Impact and Zazu who’s borderline Grade 3 level but a horse-for-the-course at Tokyo; Therapeia, the daughter of Orfevre and Laragh who takes a class hike after back-to-back allowance scores over males; and Tosen Bless, who was highly tried at three and finally ended her long losing skid in a Hanshin allowance.
The Victoria Mile is carded as the 11TH race on Sunday, with a post time of 2:40 a.m. (ET). One race earlier, the 10TH includes a couple on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard – Tagano Beauty, the Hyacinth runner-up (12 points), and Dieu du Vin, the Cattleya Sho winner (10 points).