Almond Eye hasn’t raced in nearly five months and comes off an unexpected loss at her last start but jockey Christophe Lemaire has no doubt about what will unfold in Sunday’s Group One Tenno Sho Autumn (2,000m) at Tokyo Racecourse.
“I think she’ll win,” Lemaire said. “Almond Eye is the best horse in Japan. She won all her races last year and won in Dubai this year.
“There are a lot of Group One winners this time, but she has beaten nearly all of them. She is the best.”
After five Group One wins in a row – including the Japan Cup and the Dubai Turf – the darling of Japanese racing came unstuck in June’s Yasuda Kinen (1,600m) after suffering interference early in proceedings.
But Lemaire is confident that third-placed finish will be nothing but a distant memory come Sunday afternoon.
“She’s coming off a lay-off but I think she’ll perform very well,” he said. “She knows her work and does it easily but I did feel her relax a bit at the end of work this week, so I used the whip [for that reason] and also because I wanted to check her gait after the finish line.
“Last week she’d been a bit winded, but not this week. I think she was at about 80 per cent [for her work in the mornings]. She’ll give that extra 20 per cent for the race and that will make quite a difference.”
Almond Eye proved 12 months ago she has no trouble performing at the top level after an extended stint in the paddock, winning the Group One Shuka Sho (2,000m) after five months away from the track.
“She returned from time off for the Shuka Sho and won that. In the Yasuda Kinen, other than the start it was a very good race. If we hadn’t had to struggle for position at the start in that, I think we definitely would have won,” Lemaire said.
Almond Eye is entered for the Mile and the Cup at December’s Hong Kong International Races and connections have suggested she will either defend her crown in the Japan Cup in late-November or make the trip to Sha Tin.
Win Bright takes the HK$24 million FWD QEII Cup! Japan's grey clocks 1m 58.81s setting a new 2000m track record for trainer Yoshihiro Hatakeyama and jockey Masami Matsuoka. #HKracing #HKChampionsDay pic.twitter.com/TVDzbms537— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) April 28, 2019
Whatever the decision, Lemaire issued a warning to her opponents.
“This time she has had five months off and getting back to peak takes time. It’s possible she’ll improve a bit after the Tenno Sho,” he said. “I think she was in the best condition for the Japan Cup [last preparation].”
Of the challengers, the Katsuhiko Sumii-trained Saturnalia – a two-time Group One winner over 2,000m – looks the most likely to extend Almond Eye’s losing streak, while 2018 Japanese Derby winner Wagnerian and Danon Premium are also in the market.
Also in the race is Win Bright, who took out this year’s Group One QE II Cup (2,000m) at Sha Tin as a rank outsider.