'Almond' a Tough Nut to Crack in Yasuda Kinen

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Almond Eye (Jpn) | Horsephotos

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Almond Eye (Jpn) (Lord Kanaloa {Jpn}), third in last year's renewal of the G1 Yasuda Kinen, returns to take another crack at Sunday's 1,600-meter Tokyo feature, a 'Win and You're In' to the GI Breeders' Cup Mile. Victorious over this turf course in the 2,400-meter G1 Japan Cup in 2018, she added two more Group 1s last season in the Dubai Turf in March prior to the Tenno Sho (Autumn) in October. Her 2020 debut was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, she once again made short work of her rivals, winning the G1 Victoria Mile over this course and trip May 17. Almond Eye has notched five wins out of six starts at Tokyo, the only blemish being last year's Yasuda, with interference at the start the likely culprit. Prior to her Victoria Mile win, she finished ninth in the Arima Kinen at Nakayama Dec. 22. Her jockey, Christophe Lemaire, is gunning for his fourth Group 1 victory this year.

“Last year, up against male horses in the Yasuda Kinen, a lot happened, but she did run well,” said trainer, Sakae Kunieda. “The Fuchu [Tokyo Racecourse] 1,600 [meters] is ideal for her, and, if she runs like usual, I think it'll go well. And we'll likely have a fast track, which is good.”

He added, “After the Victoria Mile, I waited to see how she was doing. She looked good and it had been an easy win for her, and she'd come out of the race well. I figured she could run again with only two full weeks  training in between. I decided to come here. It's her first time with so little time between starts, but mentally she's very relaxed and very calm. Looking at her fast work this week, I'd say there's nothing to worry about. She has always moved well in work, but I had her work with a partner and told the rider if that horse wasn't moving well to just move ahead early. It was an ideal workout. If she can get a run like she had in the Victoria Mile, that will be ideal.”

Mile specialist Indy Champ (Jpn) (Stay Gold {Jpn}) has proven to be the model of consistency over the past four seasons. Winner of the G1 Yasuda Kinen and G1 Mile Championship last season, he won the Yomiuri Milers Cup at Kyoto Apr. 26, the same prep he had last year for the Yasuda (he ran fourth in 2019). Yuichi Fukunaga, just off his second Derby win, is expected in the saddle.

“The Yomiuri Milers Cup lineup was such where I thought he really shouldn't lose,” said Yuicki Fukunaga. “The most important thing was that he'd had a prep before that and his action in the preliminaries was quite different from what it is without one. He has a lot of quirks, but that was part of the attraction. I had the impression prior to riding him that he was a difficult horse and that he had difficulties at the break. Now, a lot of that has been fixed.”

He continued, “Physically, he seems to have fully matured from last autumn. He has really good acceleration and he's able to use that acceleration to get a good position now, which is a big plus. He's also able to handle a slow pace. His strength is his versatility.”

Danon Kingly (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}), winner of the G2 Mainichi Okan last fall, finished fifth in Kyoto's G1 Mile Championship in November before taking the G2 Nakayama Kinen Jan. 3. He was a close-up third in his latest start in the G1 Osaka Hai Apr. 5. Keita Tosaki, who had been the colt's regular rider until an accident took him out of action shortly before the Mile Championship, returned to work May 23 and is expected back with his old partner for the Yasuda.

“This was the first time I was injured and I was raring to be back,” said Tosaki. “The injury was worse than I'd thought and it took a while to heal, but I'm totally recovered now. I think he has matured and that he ran well for Norihiro Yokoyama [in his last three starts]. He really broke well in the Osaka Hai and since no other horses went to the lead, and because he was in great shape, going to the front was the right decision. He gave it his best to the end.”

He added, “Two of his advantages are he has a great turn of foot and his responses are good. In track work, he moves well from the start, perhaps a little too well, but he does feel good.”

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