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Posted 2020-11-30 11:31:18  
Almond Eye Caps Spectacular Career with Japan Cup

Race favorite Almond Eye claimed this year’s Japan Cup, the first race in history to feature three Triple Crown winners, while capping off a brilliant career. The 2018 fillies’ Triple Crown winner boasts a JRA record of eight JRA-G1 victories and nine G1 triumphs overall when adding the 2019 Dubai Turf title to the list. Topping Kitasan Black’s record, she has marked the most career earnings of JPY 1,915,263,900 as of today. This Japan Cup victory is trainer Sakae Kunieda’s 19th JRA-G1 title while jockey Christophe Lemaire celebrates his 35th JRA-G1 and third Japan Cup victory—with Vodka (2009) and Almond Eye (2018). Lemaire has also won four G1 titles in a row after the Tenno Sho (Autumn) win with the star mare this year, the Queen Elizabeth II Cup with Lucky Lilac and the Mile Championship with Gran Alegria which adds up to a total of eight G1 wins in a single year, a tie to his own 2018 record.

Breaking smoothly from stall two, Almond Eye traveled in fourth to fifth on the rails in the backstretch while 2018 Japan Cup runner-up Kiseki set a strong pace outdistancing the rest of the field by a good 20 lengths. With Kiseki still up front, the others drifted out rounding the final turn, giving the star mare, who entered the lane in third, a clear path to launch her bid. Under confident handling by Christophe Lemaire, for the last time Almond Eye displayed her signature turn of foot to take command 150 meters out and drew away to triumph by 1-1/4 lengths.

“She looked good since arriving at the racecourse—she has definitely matured mentally. We were worried about the rough going near the rails, but Christophe did a good job in finding a good path. The pace was ideal for Almond Eye and her response was totally different from that in the Tenno Sho (Autumn). Since expectations of an eighth G1 title were enormous in her last Tenno Sho start, we did feel pressure but today, all we wanted was for her to come back safe and sound. The victory is such a bonus, we couldn’t be happier. She has given us so much excitement and joy and it has been fulfilling to be a part of her career. It would be great if I could be involved in training her colt or filly someday,” commented trainer Sakae Kunieda.

“Since this was her final start, it was very special for me and I’m thrilled we were able to win. After winning the Victoria Mile in the spring, we had three weeks to get her prepared for the Yasuda Kinen in which she was second. She had an extra week this time and was tuned up beautifully. She was relaxed in the gate, broke smoothly and was able to sit in a good position. The turf condition near the rails was much better than last week so I don’t think the inner draw was a problem. The pace was just right for her and she responded well in the stretch. The others closing in on us didn’t worry me at all. Almond Eye is a perfect mare and doesn’t have any weak points. Her career as a race horse ended today but I look forward to riding her children,” said jockey Christophe Lemaire.

This year’s Triple Crown winner Contrail ran in mid-field a couple of lengths behind rival Daring Tact and was on her heels at the final turn. Sent off second favorite, the undefeated colt unleashed an explosive kick down the middle of the straight pinning Glory Vase and Curren Bouquetd’or in the final strides, while holding off the strong challenge by Daring Tact and finished second, his first defeat in his eighth career start.

Third favorite and fillies’ Triple Crown champion Daring Tact was settled in mid-field up to the last corner, was bumped by Contrail 300 meters out and was forced to alter her path to squeeze between rivals but accelerated strongly thereon, tagging Glory Vase in the final strides and nosing out Curren Bouquetd’or at the wire for a neck third.

Reluctant to load, ninth favorite and French contender Way To Paris broke from stall eight, sat at the far rear and improved position in the stretch but never reached contention, finishing 10th.

“Everything was different from what he’s used to when racing at home, so he was very nervous and took a lot of time to get into the stall. He broke poorly and even though the pace was so fast, he did respond in the last 300 meters. He was used up trying to get into the stall and the bad break also affected the outcome,” commented Zoe Pfeil after the race.

“The horse seemed laid back up to the gate. He just didn’t want to get in and got worked up,” added Mirco Demuro.
Other Horses:
4th: (1) Curren Bouquetd'or—ran inside Daring Tact, angled out for stretch run, chased eventual winner and rallied with two three-year-old Triple Crown winners for runner-up seat, weakened before wire
5th: (15) Glory Vase—traveled in 4th, accelerated at stretch and sustained bid after overtaken by eventual winner, weakened in final strides
6th: (3) World Premiere—hugged rails around 10th, showed effort but no match for top finishers
7th: (7) Mikki Swallow—raced in 12th, passed tired rivals at stretch
8th: (4) Kiseki—set fast pace, led until 150m out, outrun thereafter
9th: (12) Makahiki—saved ground in 13th, showed effort but was checked 200m out
11th: (10) Perform a Promise—sat around 10th, even paced
12th: (13) You Can Smile—settled 2nd from rear, circled wide, unable to reach contention
13th: (11) Crescendo Love—traveled near eventual winner, never fired at stretch
14th: (9) Taurus Gemini—chased leaders in 3rd, ran out of steam at top of stretch
15th: (14) Yoshio—tracked distant leader in 2nd, faded after 3rd corner 

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