It’s been a year of firsts around the world, but Japan’s racing fans, with most of 2020 run “behind closed doors” and JRA racecourses still not fully open to the general public, are ready for more positive developments.
Two unbeaten triple crown winners in a row has helped raise cheer the last two weeks. And this week’s positive could come in the form of a surge down the long Tokyo stretch that would send Almond Eye into the winner’s circle and the history books as the country’s first horse to capture eight Group 1 wins on turf.
Only a small field of 12 has been nominated for Sunday’s (1 November) Tenno Sho Autumn (2000m) and the super mare’s presence is most definitely a factor. Such a small field is rare for one of Japan’s most prestigious races, in which participation alone is an honour. The field has numbered less than 16 only three times in the last 20 editions of the race.
Almond Eye won the race last year and is pegged by most to win it again this year. She has a win and a second from only two starts this year. She won the G1 Victoria Mile and less than a month later contested the G1 Yasuda Kinen (1600m), finishing second to a fresh Gran Alegria.
This year females have captured five of the seven G1 races that were open to both sexes and had females in the line-up. So, it’s no surprise that Almond Eye’s biggest rival amid the Tenno Sho Autumn field is the filly, Chrono Genesis.
Second by a neck in the G1 Osaka Hai (2000m), the four-year-old won the G1 Takarazuka Kinen (2200m) at her following start in June by six lengths over Kiseki.
Danon Kingly, who was a close-up third behind Chrono Genesis in the Osaka Hai, is gunning for his first top-level win, but Fierement and Kiseki are also seen as formidable rivals. Last raced in early June, Danon Kingly finished five and a half lengths seventh off the winner in the Yasuda Kinen, though were seemingly hampered by the good going.
Fierement has won back-to-back spring versions of the Tenno Sho (2019 & 2020) and is a very different animal from this Sunday’s version, as the Tenno Sho Spring is run over 3200m at Kyoto, not 2000m at Tokyo.
Fierement, by Deep Impact, has not raced since the Tenno Sho Spring and has never before run in the 2000m version. He has raced at the distance though, and is proven at Tokyo as well.
Kiseki may need a miracle to win, but he could easily round out the top three. He has finished second or third in 50 percent of his starts since winning his last race in October 2017, and after his Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe seventh last year and three finishes out of the money proved he’s not washed up, especially when he finished second in the Takarazuka Kinen.
He returned earlier this month to post a second in the G2 Kyoto Daishoten (2400m) and is looking primed to match or possibly better his third-place showing in the 2018 Tenno Sho Autumn.
Not to be forgotten is Danon Premium, who has only raced once in Japan this year, a 13th-placed effort in the Yasuda Kinen, and was at the time returning from a gallant third on a sloppy track in the G1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m) at Randwick in April.