Triple Crown Showdown In Japan Cup

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Almond Eye | JRA

The G1 Japan Cup rarely fails to deliver an epic clash of sexes and generations at Tokyo Racecourse on the last weekend in November, and this year's lineup on Sunday features a historic showdown of three individual Triple Crown winners.

Almond Eye (Jpn) (Lord Kanaloa {Jpn}) is the most widely known of those internationally, Silk Racing's 5-year-old having swept the Japanese fillies' Triple Crown in 2018 en route to victory in this race. She dropped back in trip to take the G1 Dubai Turf the following spring, and has since added two renewals of the G1 Tenno Sho Autumn over 2000 metres as well as the G1 Victoria Mile. The Japan Cup has been earmarked as Almond Eye's last race before she retires to stud.

Jockey Christophe Lemaire partnered Almond Eye in a work on Thursday and he said, “I was very happy with the horse's condition. Riding Almond Eye is always very special for me. Today was the last fast work of her career and she was very focused and she was enjoying herself the whole time. The only difference between her fast work today and her work before the Tenno Sho was the pace. Today, I didn't want her to overdo it, but wanted her to keep some power in reserve. She has gotten stronger and looks to be in good condition.

“Two years ago she was three years old and she only carried 53 kg in the Japan Cup. This time she's five and it's quite a different race. The 3-year-olds this year are incredibly strong and I think it's going to be a good race.”

Those 3-year-olds are unbeaten stars Contrail (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}) and Daring Tact (Jpn) (Epiphaneia {Jpn}), who one week apart in October swept the fillies' and colts' Triple Crowns. While none of the seven prior colts to win the Triple Crown have taken the Japan Cup in the same year, filly Triple Crown winners have done it twice: Almond Eye and Gentildonna (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}) in 2012. Contrail and Daring Tact have had four and five weeks' rest, respectively, from their wins in the G1 Kikuka Sho and G1 Shuka Sho. While Daring Tact steps back up in trip, Contrail is coming down from the 3000 metre journey of the Kikuka Sho.

Lemaire said of the opposition, “Both Contrail and Daring Tact are amazing horses and they've given us some very good races. They showed us both speed and stamina. The two of them are very talented. So I think this year's Japan Cup is going to be quite difficult. It's very hard to tell who will win. I'll think about my strategy two days before the race.”

This year's Japan Cup has drawn one international challenger, the French raider Way To Paris (GB) (Champs Elysees {GB}). The 7-year-old entire has been a model of consistency over the past four seasons but has proven better than ever in 2020, winning G2 Grand Prix de Chantilly and, over this trip, the G1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud in June. He was last seen finishing ninth in a heavy-ground G1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Oct. 4.

“After the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud victory in June, it was decided to challenge the Japan Cup and give the horse an opportunity of a lifetime at the end of his career,” said Zoe Pfeil, assistant to trainer Andrea Marcialis. “The race tactics will be Mirco Demuro's call and whether the horse should fare well against the Triple Crown winners will depend on whether Way To Paris is relaxed in the later stages and able to show his good turn of foot. We are confident that the turf at Tokyo Racecourse, not to mention the 2400-meter distance, will suit our horse and we are looking forward to seeing how he handles it.”

Not to be discounted in a contentious lineup are Glory Vase (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}), last year's G1 Hong Kong Vase winner who won the G2 Kyoto Daishoten over this trip on Oct. 11, and Curren Bouquetd'or (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}), who rides a frustrating streak of four straight second-place finishes in top company, including last year's Japan Cup and the G2 Sankei Sho All Comers S. on Sept. 27.

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