Following her impressive seasonal debut in the “Win and You’re In” Victoria Mile (G1) against female rivals three weeks ago, Silk Racing Co.’s 5-year-old super mare Almond Eye (JPN) will seek a second Breeders’ Cup Challenge victory on Sunday (June 7) at Tokyo Racecourse when she faces open company in the 1-mile, US$2.56 million Yasuda Kinen (G1). The winner of Sunday’s race on turf will receive an automatic berth and fees paid into the $2 million TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) through the international Breeders’ Cup Challenge.
The Breeders’ Cup Challenge is an international series of stakes races whose winners receive automatic starting positions and fees paid into a corresponding race of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which is scheduled to be held at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky, on Nov. 6-7.
As part of the benefits of the Challenge Series, Breeders’ Cup will pay the entry fees for the Yasuda Kinen winner to start in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile, which will be run at 1 mile over the Keeneland turf course. Breeders’ Cup also will provide a minimum travel allowance of US$40,000 for all starters based outside of North America to compete in the World Championships.
The 70th Yasuda Kinen, drew 14 starters, will be run counterclockwise over the Tokyo course.
Almond Eye, trained by Sakae Kunieda and ridden by Christophe Lemaire, has won nine of 12 starts, including seven Group 1 wins, the most recent came on May 17 over the Tokyo course when the daughter of Lord Kanaloa (JPN) cruised to a 4-length victory, and earned a Breeders’ Cup Challenge spot into the Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1). She was supposed to begin 2020 in Dubai to defend her title in the Dubai Turf (G1) in March, but the Dubai World Cup night races were canceled because of the Coronavirus pandemic. After winning the Tenno Sho (Autumn) (G1) last year, Almond Eye was headed for Hong Kong for the Longines Hong Kong Cup (G1), but her trip was cancelled when she came down with a fever. She closed out 2019 with a ninth-place finish in the Group 1 Arima Kinen at Nakayama.
Almond Eye has notched five wins out of six outings at Tokyo Racecourse, with her only defeat coming in last year’s Yasuda Kinen, won by Silk Racing stablemate Indy Champ (JPN). She closed strongly to finish third, beaten just three-quarters of a length after being compromised by traffic at the start. A win on Sunday will make Almond Eye just the second female to win seven JRA Group 1 races, joining the great mare Vodka (JPN) in that achievement, and the only Japanese turf horse ever to win eight Group 1s in total.
“Last year, up against male horses in the Yasuda Kinen, a lot happened, but she did run well,” said Kunieda to JRA.com. “The Fuchu (Tokyo Racecourse) 1,600 is an easy race for her and if she runs normally I think it’ll go well. After the Victoria Mile, I waited to see how she was doing. She looked good and it had been an easy win for her, so she came come out of the race well. So, I figured she could run again with only two full weeks for training in between. It’s her first time with so little time between starts but mentally she’s very relaxed and very calm.”
Silk Racing’s 5-year-old Indy Champ, trained by Hidetaka Otonashi, won last year’s race with a final surge in the last 50 yards to prevail by a neck over Aerolithe (JPN) for his first Group 1 win. A bay son of Stay Gold (JPN), Indy Champ, ridden by Yuichi Fukunaga, picked up his second Group 1 when winning the Mile Championship last November at Kyoto by 1 ½ lengths over Danon Premium (JPN). He closed out the season at Sha Tin with a seventh-place finish in the Hong Kong Mile (G1), which was won by Admire Mars (JPN). After coming in fourth in his season debut to Danon Kingly (JPN) in the 1-mile Nakayama Kinen (G2), Indy Champ rebounded last time out, capturing the Yomiuri Milers Cup (G2) at Kyoto by 2 lengths, and improved his record to eight wins in 15 starts.
Junko Kondo’s 4-year-old chestnut Admire Mars faces the challenge of making his first start since winning the Hong Kong Mile by a length on Dec. 8 while springing a 26-1 upset. He was shipped to Dubai in March, but was returned home following the race cancelations. Sporting a consistent six wins in nine starts for trainer Yasuo Tomomichi, last year’s Hong Kong score was Admire Mars’ second Group 1 triumph, having captured the NHK Mile Cup last May over the Tokyo course. Admire Mars will be ridden by Yuichi Fukunaga.
“It will be six months since his last race but you couldn’t tell that from looking at him,” said a confident Tomomichi. “He seems to have gotten taller since returning from Dubai and definitely is bigger all around. A decent pace would be good for him.”
Danox Co. Ltd.’s 4-year-old Deep Impact (JPN) colt, Danon Kingly, has been a mark of consistency, with five wins, two seconds and a third, in nine starts, which includes two Group 2 victories. Trained by Kiyoshi Hagiwara and ridden by Keita Tosaki, Danon Kingly comes into Sunday’s race off a third-place finish, beaten about a length, in the 1 ¼-mile Osaka Hai (G1) at Hanshin on April 5, leading the field until the final 100 yards. Prior to that, Danon Kingly began the year on March 1, winning the 1 1/8-mile Nakayama Kinen (G2) by 1 ¾ lengths as the 3-2 favorite. As a 3-year-old, Danon Kingly just missed winning the Tokyo Yushin (G1) (Japanese Derby) finishing second by a neck. But he was back in the Tokyo winner’s circle in October, taking the 1 1/8-mile Mainichi Okan (G2) for 3-year-olds by 1 ¼ lengths. His only off-the-board finish was his fifth-place effort in the Mile Championship in his next out.
Another talented runner from Danox Co. is Danon Premium, also a son of Deep Impact, who has won six of 11 starts, but is seeking some redemption off his last-place finish in the 2019 Yasuda Kinen. Trained by Mitsumasa Nakauchida and ridden by Damian Lane, Danon Premium is making his second start of the year since a third-place finish as the 17-5 second choice in the 1 ¼-mile Longines Queen Elizabeth Stakes (G1) at Royal Randwick in Australia on April 11. That was his first start since his runner-up finish in the Mile Championship five months prior. As a 2-year-old, Danon Premium won the Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes (G1), one of four wins to begin his career before being defeated in the 2018 Tokyo Yushun.
Also of interest are two other female starters in the race: Gran Alegria (JPN) and Normcore (JPN). Sunday Racing Co.’s Gran Alegria (JPN), a 4-year-old daughter of Deep Impact out of 2009 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Tapitsfly, won the 2019 Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) (G1) and came back in the fall to beat males in the 7-furlong Hanshin Cup (G2). In her only start his year, Gran Alegria finished third by a short head (moved up to second through disqualification) in the 6-furlong Takamatsunomiya Kinen (G1) at Chukyo on March 29, also against males.
Seiichi Iketani’s 5-year-old Normcore, trained by Kiyoshi Hagiwara and ridden by Norihiro Yokoyama, finished third behind Almond Eye last time out, while attempting to defend her title in the Victoria Mile. A gray daughter of Harbinger (GB), ridden by Kenichi Ikezoe, Normcore won last year’s Group 2 Fuji Stakes at Tokyo after capturing the Victoria Mile.
The 2020 Breeders’ Cup World Championships, consisting of 14 Championship races, is scheduled to be held on November 6-7 at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky, and features a total of $35 million in purses and awards.