High Expectations For Almond Eye's Further Success

 Mar 22 2019

Challenges abroad by Japanese-trained horses resulted in one or more G1 titles every year from 2011 to 2017, but expectations are high for renewed success this spring when a number of top Japanese runners will seek success against international competitors.

The focus is centered on Almond Eye (JPN, F4, by Lord Kanaloa), JRA’s 2018 Horse of the Year and winner of the fillies’ Triple Crown, who is slated to run in the Dubai Turf (G1, 1,800m) on March 30. Trainer Sakae Kunieda explained the reason why he chose the Dubai Turf instead of the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1, 2,410m), stating that “the filly is more comfortable at 1,800 meters” and that “Japanese runners have come up with favorable results at this distance in the past three Dubai Turf races, producing two wins and a second.”

The coming Dubai Turf will be Almond Eye’s first start in four months, since she claimed the Japan Cup (G1, 2,400m) in a record 2:20.6. Her Shuka Sho (G1, 2,000m) victory last autumn came off a five-month break following a victory in the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks, G1, 2,400m), so the only concern will be whether she can handle the long overseas travel. Her racing plan for this year after the Dubai Turf is yet to be determined but expectations are running high for a long-awaited Japanese title in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1, 2,400m) in the fall, so the outcome of her first overseas trip this spring is attracting much attention.

Two other Japanese runners will start in the Dubai Turf, including Vivlos (JPN, M6, by Deep Impact), who won the race in 2017 but was second last year. The Deep Impact (JPN, by Sunday Silence) mare has been winless since, finishing fourth and eighth after her return to Japan, but she was second in the Hong Kong Mile (G1, 1,600m) in December and reversed her retirement plan as of the end of 2018 for another shot at claiming her second Dubai Turf title.

The other Dubai Turf entrant, 2017 Shuka Sho winner Deirdre (JPN, M5, by Harbinger), placed third in the race last year. She followed up two more grade-race titles back home and then confirmed her ability to travel well with a runner-up effort in the Hong Kong Cup (G1, 2,000m).

The Dubai Sheema Classic has three Japanese starters. 2017 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby, G1, 2,400m) victor Rey de Oro (JPN, H5, by King Kamehameha), who was affected by the slow pace in last year’s race and finished fourth, won his comeback start in the fall and registered his second G1 title in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) (G1, 2,000m). The subsequent 2018 Best Older Colt or Horse was a neck short in the year-end Arima Kinen (G1, 2,500m), carrying 2 kg more than the winner.

Nonkono Yume (JPN, G7, by Twining), winner of the 2018 February Stakes (G1, dirt, 1,600m), will be running in the Godolphin Mile (G2, dirt, 1,600m). Three-year-old Derma Louvre (JPN, C3, by Pyro), who has three wins including the Hyogo Junior Grand Prix (dirt, 1,400m) out of six starts on dirt, will start in the UAE Derby (G2, dirt, 1,900m) and possibly challenge the U.S. Triple Crown depending on the outcome of the race.

Among the above-mentioned Dubai challengers, Suave Richard and Deirdre both kicked off their 2019 campaigns in the Nakayama Kinen (G2, 1,800m) on February 24, finishing fourth and sixth, respectively.

Runners traveling overseas other than to Dubai include Kluger (JPN, H7, by King Kamehameha) who will fly to Australia for the Doncaster Mile (G1, 1,600m) on April 6. The King Kamehameha (JPN, by Kingmambo) horse was sidelined for a year after sustaining a knee fracture in his right foreleg following a victory in the 2016 Milers Cup (G2, 1,600m). Since then he has only managed a second and a third at the G3 level.

Lys Gracieux (JPN, M5, by Heart's Cry) will head for the Hong Kong’s Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1, 2,000m) on April 28 after a runner-up effort in the Kinko Sho (G2, 2,000m) on March 10. The 2018 Best Older Filly or Mare scored her first G1 victory in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1, 2,200m) last fall, and then finished second in the Hong Kong Vase (G1, 2,400m), proving herself well suited to the track in Hong Kong. Win Bright (JPN, H5, by Stay Gold), who has already scored two wins this season and successfully defended his title in the Nakayama Kinen, will join Lys Gracieux in the Hong Kong’s Queen Elizabeth II Cup.

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