Dubai World Cup Day - Almond Eye captures Dubai Turf for Japan
Almond Eye did not disappoint in her international debut on Dubai World Cup Day at Meydan Racecourse in the United Arab Emirates, as the Japan Racing Association’s reigning Horse of the Year turned heads with an effortless victory in the Grade 1 Dubai Turf on Saturday.
Almond Eye, the headline act among nine runners from Japan attending the world’s richest meet, picked up right where she left off last season, when the Sakae Kunieda-trained superstar became only the fifth horse ever to net the Japanese filly’s Triple Crown before smashing the world 2,400-meter record at the Japan Cup in November.
Making her 2019 debut in the first overseas race of her exploding career, the 4-year-old Almond Eye showed no signs of rust in the 1,800-meter Dubai Turf in holding off compatriot and the race’s 2017 champion, Vivlos, by a length and a quarter to pick up a winner’s check of US$ 3.6 million. A third Japanese horse in the field of 13, Deirdre, took fourth place as Japan just missed out on a podium sweep.
Kunieda failed to suppress a smile after his Lord Kanaloa filly, the betting favorite, lived up to top billing as she rattled off her fifth successive G1 win under Frenchman Christophe Lemaire. Almond Eye is the fifth Dubai Turf winner from Japan, following in the footsteps of Admire Moon (2007), Just a Way (2014), Real Steel (2016) and Vivlos.
“She traveled nice and easy,” Kunieda said. “She came out wide turning for home so we didn’t have to worry about her being boxed in. Felt good about her chances from start to finish.”
“I thought she’d have an easier time but what a horse Vivlos is; you just have to tip your hat to her. I was wondering myself what kind of a performance she’d turn in but I’d give her a 9 out of 10 tonight.”
Lemaire barely broke a sweat as he watched his mount win the race on virtual auto-pilot from the saddle. Doing most of the work, Almond Eye left her stall smoothly, traveled mid-pack before safely avoiding traffic on the final straight to go under the wire in 1 minute, 46.78 seconds.
Lemaire was comfortable enough and had the wiggling room to sneak a peak at the horses trailing behind him before cracking the whip a couple of times to ensure the win for his filly.
“She was calm like she always is after the start. She started going on her own as we came around the bend. She was very responsive and finished out the race in her usual style. I knew we had it won with 400 meter to go,” said Lemaire, who also rode Rey de Oro in the Dubai Sheema Classic (sixth) and Derma Louvre in the G2 UAE Derby (fourth).
Saturday’s performance further lifted the already high expectations for Almond Eye – out of the Sunday Silence mare Fusaichi Pandora - in this year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Europe’s most prestigious race which Japanese racing covets more than any race on the planet, but has yet to capture. Japan has been runner-up four times in the Arc, El Condor Pasa in 1999, Nakayama Festa in 2010 and Orfevre in 2012 and 2013.
“I want to take her to the Arc if everything works out so she’ll probably run somewhere in Europe before that, I think,” said Kunieda.
The Dubai Turf was also the swan song for 6-year-old mare Vivlos, who finished runner-up for the second straight year. Vivlos, trained by Yasuo Tomomichi and ridden by Mickael Barzalona, closed the race strong but came up short only because of the brilliance of Almond Eye.
“The jockey stuck to our plan and rode her perfectly – the positioning, the timing on the straight, everything went right,” Tomomichi recalled. “It was her third time in Dubai and she clearly seems to really like Dubai and we’re really grateful of all that she achieved at this place. She’s calling it a career now but I hope to be back in Dubai with her kid one day.”
Added Barzalona, “She ran a perfect race. She was struggling to settle early on but I managed to control her to move into a good position. We waited for our moment right behind Almond Eye and she was exceptional down the homestretch.”
Tomomichi was also forced to settle for a silver medal in the 2,410-meter Dubai Sheema Classic with 7-year-old veteran Cheval Grand, who gained on Old Persian down the stretch but not enough to put his hands on the trophy. Taking third was Japanese compatriot Suave Richard with Rey de Oro, the 2018 Tenno Sho (Autumn) champion and the 2017 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) winner, flaming out to sixth in a party of eight.
Cheval Grand’s Japan Cup-winning partner two years ago, Meydan debutante Hugh Bowman, lamented a poor jump out of the gate but said his horse had plenty of time to recover, crediting Old Persian where it was due. Tomomichi agreed with his jockey about the unfortunate start, but praised Cheval Grand for a strong showing in the Heart’s Cry son’s first race abroad.
“Ideally, we would have liked to see him positioned slightly closer to the front but he took a hit at the start,” said Tomomichi, whose two horses at this meet are both owned by former Major League Baseball star closer Kazuhiro Sasaki with the Seattle Mariners, who was on hand to watch Cheval Grand and Vivlos run their hearts out. “He did the best he could, though, considering it was his first trip overseas.”
Neither Suave Richard’s trainer Yasushi Shono nor jockey Joao Moreira appeared to have any complaints about the effort level they saw from their 5-year-old horse, who won the G1 Osaka Hai last season and was the third favorite for the Dubai Sheema Classic. Shono and Moreira, nevertheless, regretted that a fading horse in front of them cut off Suave Richard early on, pushing him back as they traveled.
“He was relaxed from start to finish today,” Shono said. “He was in very good form. His gait looked fine as we put the saddle on him and went to the paddock. He got off to a good start, was relaxed during the trip and looked really sharp on the straight so the result is a little disappointing. But I want to give him a pat on the back because he fought hard to come in third.”
Not as accepting of the outcome was Rey de Oro’s trainer Kazuo Fujisawa, who clearly had greater expectations from his 5-year-old star, having won two of the most prestigious races in Japan in the Derby and an Emperor’s Cup while coming off a narrow second-place finish in the season-capping Arima Kinen (The Grand Prix) last December.
Fujisawa was looking for payback after Rey de Oro placed a distant fourth in the Dubai Sheema Classic last year but did not get it after his King Kamehameha son was pushed on to the lead as the race got under way. Lemaire, who had just led Almond Eye to victory in the previous race on the card, could not contain Rey de Oro throughout and as the pack rounded for home, his partner had run out of gas.
“The race unfolded in a way that I never thought it would,” Fujisawa said, looking back on the race. “He managed to regroup for a second after the start, but he just couldn’t find a way to hold it together. What happened early on was everything today.”
In the 1,200-meter Dubai Golden Shaheen, Yutaka Take’s Matera Sky placed second, one length and a half out of first (X Y Jet). Take, no stranger to setting and breaking records, had hoped the 5-year-old Matera Sky would become the first Japanese horse to win the Dubai Golden Shaheen after his predecessors fared no better than fourth place in the past.
“I’m not going to lie, this one stings,” the 50-year-old Take said. “He ran a good race but because he was so close, I wish we’d won it. I knew he had the pace to keep up, even in this field. I think we can be proud of this result, considering how tough the other horses were. I wanted to show some pride as a Japanese jockey so it’s a real shame we couldn’t win it.”
In the signature race on Dubai World Cup Day – the US$12 million Dubai World Cup – Japan’s K T Brave proved to be an unfortunate last-minute scratch after developing colic. K T Brave’s trainer Haruki Sugiyama did not bother to mask the disappointment over the situation of his 6-year-old horse.
“Around 8pm on Friday night when we were giving him his feed, he went into a lot of pain – out of nowhere,” Sugiyama said. “We tried working him, to see how he would respond but the pain just seemed to get worse so we had to make the call. It’s really disappointing for all of us because he was coming along so well.”
In another race involving a Japanese runner, Nonkono Yume was 10th out of 12th in the G2 Godolphin Mile.
DUBAI WORLD CUP (G1, 2,000m Dirt, US$ 12 million, 20:40)
K T BRAVE : Scratched
DUBAI SHEEMA CLASSIC (G1, 2,410m Turf, US$ 6 million, 20:00)
- CHEVAL GRAND : 2nd
- SUAVE RICHARD : 3rd
- REY DE ORO : 6th
DUBAI TURF (G1, 1,800m Turf, US$ 6 million, 19:20)
- ALMOND EYE : 1st
- VIVLOS : 2nd
- DEIRDRE : 4th
DUBAI GOLDEN SHAHEEN (G1, 1,200m Dirt, US$ 2.5 million, 18:40)
- MATERA SKY : 2nd
UAE DERBY (G2, 1,900m Dirt, US$ 2.5 million, 18:05)
- DERMA LOUVRE : 4th
GODOLPHIN MILE (G2, 1,600m Dirt, US$ 1.5 million, 16:15)
Please visit the following websites for more information.
- NONKONO YUME : 10th
Dubai Racing Club: http://www.dubairacingclub.com/
Dubai World Cup: http://www.dubaiworldcup.com/
Emirates Racing Authority: http://www.emiratesracing.com/