Superstar filly Almond Eye is in “marvellous” order as she looks to become the first horse since Gentildonna in 2012 to win the Japanese fillies’ Triple Crown at Kyoto on Sunday.
The three-year-old enters the Group One Shuka Sho (2,000m) as hot favourite and trainer Sakae Kunieda says she’s only improved after a break.
“Over the summer, she matured physically and mentally and has returned to work looking good,” he said. “She has improved a lot and she’s tracking very well.
“Her performances this year have been far beyond my expectations. She went all out in the Oaks and she was a bit tired after that.
“I think she is more than ready to do well. She gained more than 10kg over the summer but you can see that she has added muscle. I think she’ll show about a 10kg gain on race day.”
After winning the first leg of the Triple Crown, the Oka Sho – also known as the Japanese 1,000 Guineas – over 1,600m in April, Almond Eye took out the 2,400m Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) six weeks later to overcome the second hurdle.
She returns to the track nearly five months later and star jockey Christophe Lemaire, who will ride Almond Eye on Sunday, cannot fault the filly as she looks to continue her scintillating form.
“The time of her gallop was really quick, but it was an easy gallop for her. She is very well balanced, moved nicely and her breathing was really good,” Lemaire said of Almond Eye’s work this week.
Kunieda was equally effusive after watching his star charge gallop on Wednesday: “She showed marvellous performance. She is a really talented filly. The inner course at Kyoto gives the inside horses more advantages, but if she runs her race there is no issue.”
Almond Eye jumps from barrier 11 and will have to overcome the likes of Primo Scene, Cantabile, Tosen Bless and Lucky Lilac to give Kunieda another Triple Crown after Apapane landed the hat-trick in 2010.
Cantabile has one eye on December’s Longines Hong Kong International Races and veteran Japanese jockey Yutaka Take is aboard for the first time.
“The only concern is she gets easily overexcited on the race day, but Yutaka Take will ride her. There is nothing to worry about with Take’s tactics,” said Cantabile’s track rider Masafumi Matsuda. “I hope she will win the race and receive the invitation for the Hong Kong International Races.”
Lucky Lilac was second to Almond Eye in the Oka Show and third in the Yushun Himba before leg troubles saw her head for the paddock, however trainer Mikio Matsunaga says the filly is ready to go.
“She will not be disadvantaged from the long time off, she has become really powerful,” he said.
Unfortunately for Hong Kong punters, star jockey Joao Moreira – who left for Sha Tin for Japan in July – will not be riding on Sunday due to suspension.