New star for Japan set for the international stage after Japan Cup win

Asian Racing jurisdiction Japan has a new star to present to the international stage after three-year-old Lord Kanaloa filly Almond Eye (JPN) won the ¥ 648 million Grade 1 Japan Cup in association with Longines (2400m) at Tokyo on Sunday.

The long held ambitions of the Japanese thoroughbred industry to win the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (2400m) at Longchamp, Paris, will surely mean that the Sakae Kunieda trained filly will eventually be set for a campaign towards France’s most prestigious race.

After Almond Eye under jockey Christophe Lemarie became the second three-year-old filly after Gentildonna in 2012 to dominate the 38th renewal of the Japan Cup, the trainer acknowledged the importance of her win and a likely international campaign ahead.

“The Japan Cup itself being recognized as an international event and having won this race gives her various options to choose from including an overseas challenge that will most certainly be expected of her, although details will have to be discussed with the owners,” he said.

"This is a very special filly as I keep telling the press in Japan that she is “Perfect”, her ability, temperament, she can adapt and race from any position, so if she has a chance to race overseas, I think she can race as well as she did today if not at least be competitive against the world’s best,” added Lemaire.

Not only did Almond Eye win the Japan Cup before a crowd of nearly 100,000, she did so by a record-breaking 2:20.6, 1.5 seconds faster than the previous record set by Alkaased in 2005.
After marking a second in her debut start Almond Eye has been undefeated since, landing six consecutive victories including the fillies’ Triple Crown—Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas, G1), Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks, G1) and the Shuka Sho (G1).

This was the first Japan Cup triumph and 15th JRA-G1 victory for Sakae Kunieda while Christophe Lemaire celebrates his second Japan Cup win, his first was with Vodka in 2009. Lemaire now owns 22 JRA-G1 trophies and renewed his own record of eight G1 titles won in the same year.

The favourite Almond Eye broke from the inner-most stall, hugged the rails a few lengths from the frontrunner in second, steadily climbed the stretch hill and swooped past Kiseki at the 200m mark, pulling away easily to a 1-3/4-length victory.

Breaking from stall eight, four-year-old Kiseki (JPN) (Rulership) was sent to the front before the initial turn, setting the pace and extending his lead to three lengths in the back straight. He bravely lead into the home straight with a good margin, but proved no match for the winner while driving home well holding off Suave Richard (JPN) (Heart’s Cry) by 3-1/2 lengths for second.

“I had every confidence in her potential and she was in great form coming into the race, she travelled smoothly to Tokyo yesterday and settled in nicely.

Although she broke a little in air at the break, she was still able to secure a good position up front and into a nice flow," said Kunieda of his winning filly.

"When I saw that the clock indicated 59.9 seconds at the 1,000- meter mark, I was already pretty sure that she could pull it off and win the race.”

“I am happy to have won the Japan Cup which is a big international race watched everywhere around the world, but personally I feel relieved to have won (with the race favorite) because I knew she had the potential to win but you never know what might happen in the 2,400 meters," said Lemaire.

"Today I was a little bit anxious, but I think we saw the best Almond Eye in the race and it was a great show.

"She broke well, and I saw that Kiseki was taking the lead which was good because Kiseki is a good horse and a leader with a good pace, so I had the best leader for Almond Eye and was happy with how the race went.

“By the first corner Almond Eye was already her usual self and well into the bridle and I really enjoyed being in the position of being on her back and by the backstretch, I nearly thought the race was over and ours,” he said.

Almond Eye is out of the Sunday Silence mare Fusaichi Pandora and she was bred by Northern Racing. The filly is owned by Silk Racing Co. Ltd and after her six wins from seven starts she has career earnings of ¥ 720,223,000.