Back on song with a blistering display in the Victoria Mile (G1), Almond Eye looks to make another statement over Tokyo’s metric mile in Sunday’s Yasuda Kinen (G1).
Almond Eye was an unlucky third here a year ago, after being clobbered in a chain reaction at the start. Although flying late – in :32.4 for her concluding three furlongs – the superstar was a little more than a neck shy of Indy Champ, and missed nailing Aerolithe by a nose for second.
Japan’s former Horse of the Year aims to gain revenge on Sunday, but enters in a different manner. In 2019, Almond Eye was riding a seven-race winning streak capped by the Dubai Turf (G1) on World Cup night. This time, the Lord Kanaloa mare comes right back on shorter rest than usual, three weeks after the May 17 Victoria Mile, where she rebounded from a clunker in the Dec. 22 Arima Kinen (G1). The initial plan was to defend her Dubai Turf title, until the 2020 World Cup card was lost to coronavirus.
Almond Eye, drawn in post 5 with partner Christophe Lemaire, is poised to make JRA history. If she emulates sire Lord Kanaloa by adding the Yasuda Kinen, she’ll own eight Grade/Group 1 titles on turf, breaking the record of seven that she now shares with Symboli Rudolf, T M Opera O, Deep Impact, Vodka, Gentildonna, and Kitasan Black.
Also up for grabs is a ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1). Almond Eye has already earned a berth to the Filly & Mare Turf (G1) via the “Win and You’re In” Victoria Mile, although her chances of turning up at Keeneland are unlikely.
Indy Champ would register an historic achievement of his own if turning a rare repeat. Only three others have won back-to-back runnings of the prestigious event – Swee Sue (1952-53), Yamanin Zephyr (1992-93), and Vodka (2008-09).
The Yasuda Kinen marked Indy Champ’s arrival on the big stage, and he backed up his newfound status by landing the division’s premier race in the fall, the Nov. 17 Mile Championship (G1). Voted Japan’s champion miler, Indy Champ was unplaced in his next two, the Hong Kong Mile (G1) and Nakayama Kinen (G2), but warmed up with a victory in the April 26 Yomiuri Milers’ Cup (G2).
Hong Kong Mile hero Admire Mars has not been seen since Sha Tin’s Dec. 8 festivities. But he was primed to take on defending champion Almond Eye in the Dubai Turf. A specialist with a 6-for-7 record at this trip, Admire Mars was Japan’s champion 2-year-old colt of 2018 when capturing the Asahi Hai Futurity (G1), and he sports a course-and-distance win in the 2019 NHK Mile Cup (G1).
Two others competed in the Hong Kong Mile – Normcore and Persian Knight, the respective fourth and fifth to Admire Mars that day, with Indy Champ back in seventh. Normcore was most recently third to Almond Eye as the defending Victoria Mile champ. Persian Knight, winless since the 2017 Mile Championship, has placed in the 2018 and 2019 editions of the Kyoto feature. But he hasn’t made his presence felt in his two prior tries in this race, and exits a fifth in the Nakayama Kinen March 1. Like Almond Eye and Admire Mars, Persian Knight was in the canceled Dubai Turf.
Danon Premium spearheads the trio of “Danons” in the field. Japan’s champion 2-year-old colt of 2017 was the second choice to Almond Eye in last year’s Yasuda Kinen, but was taken out of his game in the aforementioned melee and wound up last. Danon Premium has placed in all three ensuing starts. Best of the rest in Almond Eye’s Tenno Sho Autumn (G1) and Indy Champ’s Mile Championship (G1), he ventured to Australia for a gallant third on heavy ground in the April 11 Queen Elizabeth (G1) at The Championships. Now he gets Australian ace Damian Lane.
Danon Kingly, placed in a pair of classics last year, again found about 1 1/4 miles a bit too far when third in the April 5 Osaka Hai (G1). The cutback is in the right direction considering his two Grade 2 victories have come at about 9 furlongs, including the Nakayama Kinen two back. Danon Smash, who will break from the outside post 14, bookends the field with Danon Premium landing the rail. Unplaced in his three prior tries at this distance, Danon Smash gives it another go after capturing the about 7-furlong Keio Hai Spring Cup (G2).
Gran Alegria, the champion 3-year-old filly of 2019, steps back up to a mile after just missing in a frenetic finish to the Takamatsunomiya Kinen (G1). The brilliant daughter of Deep Impact and Tapitsfly has a question to answer at a mile these days, following losses to Admire Mars in both the Asahi Hai Futurity and NHK Mile Cup. But Gran Alegria had won twice at a mile over males as a juvenile.
Stretch-out sprinters Mr Melody and Seiun Kosei’s career highlights came in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen in past years. Mr Melody has more upside as the 2019 winner of the Chukyo prize, which he skipped this season in expectations of running on Dubai World Cup night in the Al Quoz (G1). Seiun Kosei, on the other hand, hasn’t built appreciably upon his 2017 score.
Kluger, best remembered for chasing Winx home in her 2019 Queen Elizabeth swan song, won his first graded race in four years in the April 4 Lord Derby Challenge Trophy (G3). Vin de Garde is on the upswing after flashing late for third to Indy Champ in the Yomiuri Milers Cup. Keiai Nautique hasn’t hit the board since upsetting the 2018 NHK Mile Cup, but trainer Osamu Hirata commented that the first-time cheekpieces helped in his latest.
Post time for the Yasuda Kinen is 2:40 a.m. (ET) late Saturday night into early Sunday morning, and you can watch and wager on TwinSpires.com.
Here is the field with post positions (screenshot from japanracing.jp):