ALL EYES will be on Almond Eye in Sunday’s Group 1 Japan Cup at Tokyo to see whether or not the wondermare gives herself the perfect send off as she goes head to head with the next generation of Japanese superstars. Japan’s darling 5yo daughter of Lord Kanaloa, conditioned by Sakae Kunieda, has won eight top tier events, including the 2019 running of the Group 1 Dubai Turf at Meydan, just one highlight in what has been an absolutely brilliant career that has seen her earn owners Silk Racing Co. Ltd. a massive £10,996,067. But as she prepares to retire, Japan’s most prestigious all aged race pits her against unbeaten Triple Crown winners Contrail and Daring Tact.
Almond Eye won the Japan Cup two years ago and holds the record for the most Group One wins in the country. This year’s race features numerous individual Group One winners, including France’s Prix Ganay winner Way To Paris. Meanwhile, Contrail is only the third undefeated horse to win the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas), Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) and Kikuka Sho (Japanese St Leger), while the also unbeaten Daring Tact won the fillies’ equivalent, the Triple Tiara, the Oka Sho, Yushun Himba and Shuka Sho. This is also the first Japan Cup to feature the male and female Triple Crown winners. Christophe Lemaire piloted Almond Eye to each of her eight Group One wins and was aboard her on 11 of the 12 most recent occasions she has run. And he said: “It will be emotional. My way of life for the last three years has been based on Almond Eye’s schedule.”
Riding Aristoteles, Lemaire almost denied Contrail an historic Triple Crown in last month’s Kikuka Sho, with the pair finishing a neck behind in second. And he is relishing another clash with Contrail, this time with one of his favourite partners. “We don’t yet know his limits because most of the time he won with some margin,” Lemaire said of Contrail. “I still believe Almond Eye can beat him but it’s going to be some match. It’s definitely the race of the decade. This year is very exceptional. Having these three horses in the same race is something we may never see again. It’s the race that everybody has to watch.” Contrail might have a slight edge over Daring Tact in that he is slightly more experienced having won all his seven career starts compared to the latter who has been victorious in all five of hers. Yoshito Yahagi, who trains Contrail, is happy with the way he has recovered from his Kikuka Sho battle with Aristoteles.
Yahagi said: “Contrail is recovering better than I thought. We want to go to the Japan Cup for the sake of the racing fans. I thought he’d be a little more tired, but his body is in good shape and he’s recovered better than I thought he would. I think that Contrail’s quick recovery is one of his strengths.” France has never scored in the Japan Cup, but Italian born trainers have won the race twice, which could keep a bit of the interest going in the Andrea Marcialis-trained Way To Paris, who was last seen finishing ninth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. “He ran poorly in the Arc because he is essentially a good ground horse these days and an intelligent one, so he looked after himself on the deep going,” said Marcialis. “I hope he will get his favoured fast ground, as is often the case there, and having Mirco Demuro on board is a plus as well.”