This Sunday, 25 November at 2.40 pm (Hong Kong time), another episode of the increasingly popular Almond Eye Show will air, this time from Tokyo Racecourse for the G1 Japan Cup (2400m).
All eyes will be on this daughter of the champion Lord Kanaloa as she returns to the scene of her spectacular G1 Japanese Oaks victory to try to accomplish what only one other three-year-old filly has managed in recent years, to win the Fillies’ Triple Crown and the Japan Cup in the same year.
Back in 2012, the racing world enjoyed a real treat when that year’s Fillies’ Triple Crown winner Gentildonna and the 2011 Triple Crown winner Orfevre went head to head in the Japan Cup, engaging in one of the best stretch duels in recent memory.
Almond Eye carries all the cards this Sunday with final furlong fractions far quicker than any of her opponents, and she will have a 9lb weight allowance. Jockey Christophe Lemaire cannot wait to get back in the star filly’s saddle.
“She worked Wednesday morning with another horse and it was a very good workout. She was relaxed from the start and her footwork was good,” he said. “She picked up the pace coming out of the backstretch and going into the straight and ran very nicely once into the homestretch.”
“Her condition looks to be good. Last week, her workout was a light one but this being the week of the Japan Cup, we went faster. I think her condition has improved.”
Each one of the Japanese challengers has had tough 2018 campaigns with mixed results. Suave Richard and Satono Diamond seem to be popular going into the international showcase. Both of the older horses were second in the Japanese Derby back when they were three years old, which is over the same course and distance as the Japan Cup.
Suave Richard does have a win over 2500m in a G2 at Tokyo last year. He is coming out of a disaster of a trip in the G1 Tenno Sho Autumn (2000m) last month and back to what had been perceived as his best distance after having spent most of the year trying to tackle G1 opponents over a mile and 2000m.
“The Tenno Sho (Autumn) was a really bad race. First of all, he got hit coming out of the gate. He fell in going around the final bend, and he didn’t quicken at all in the final stretch,” commented Jockey Mirco Demuro.
“Now, though, he’s in great shape, with nothing out of the ordinary. I rode work on Wednesday and he moved very well. There was no sign of any damage from his previous start,”
Satono Diamond, plagued by foot issues for most of 2018 and unable to get back to his 2017 form, finally made it back into the winners’ circle last month in the G2 Kyoto Daishoten (2400m) after a year of disappointing results. Yasutoshi Ikee knows how to condition a horse for the Japan Cup better than most, so if there is a time to have his charge primed for a comeback, it will be the Japan Cup.
The foreign raiders are the unknown factor this weekend, but both come with solid credentials. Classic-winning Capri’s ability to handle Japan’s notoriously firm ground is his main question mark for the race, as the distance shouldn’t be an issue for the G1 St. Leger Stakes winner.
Thundering Blue has recently been extended to 2400m and has seemingly taken to it quite well, finishing second in the G1 Canadian International Stakes after winning the G3 Stockholm Cup International in Sweden. Traveling doesn’t seem to bother Thundering Blue much, but he will be facing a level of stayer he has not encountered before.
With the defections of Derby winner Makahiki and G1 hero Mikki Rocket, some star power has been lost from this year’s Japan Cup, but since most of the media focus has been on Almond Eye, they too might have been lost in the background. With her blistering speed and weight advantage, the Japan Cup is likely hers to lose.