Almond Eye beat the best in Japan and now has her sights on Enable and the best in the world. Photo by Japan Racing Association.


The Arc and the prospect of racing Enable excites connections of Almond Eye

“With special horses you can go everywhere” – Christophe Lemaire


By Jason Tan, in Tokyo.



Almond Eye’s record-breaking Japan Cup win has fuelled the overseas ambitions of trainer Sakae Kunieda and jockey Christophe Lemaire is more than happy to come along for the ride.

“She is a special horse, and with special horses you can go everywhere and choose the races you want to win,” Lemaire said after Almond Eye lowered a long-standing track record by 1.5 seconds at Fuchu.

“She has great ability, good temperament, she can race in front position or back position and can adapt herself anywhere she wants to go. Of course when you see what she did today, you can expect her to be the same and be competitive in the bigger races abroad.”

The biggest overseas ambition for any Japanese trainer, jockey or owner is the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, a race with a history of heartbreak for the nation’s devoted racing fans.

“With special horses you have to do special things and if you don’t go with Almond Eye, who do you go with?” Lemaire said.

“I won’t be the one deciding of course, but for me, she has the ability to go and win the Arc.”

A dream match-up with two-time Arc winner Enable could await Almond Eye at Longchamp in October 2019 but far from being intimidated, Kunieda seemed excited by the prospect of a clash with John Gosden’s super mare.

“Sure we would love to go to the Arc and race Enable,” a jovial Kunieda said via an interpreter, adding that Almond Eye’s first trip abroad could be to tackle the Dubai Sheema Classic in March.


Almond Eye and her connections pose for all after a stunning Japan Cup win. Photo by JRA.


After watching Almond Eye cap a remarkable three-year-old campaign, perhaps it should have her potential rivals running scared.

The daughter of former sprint star Lord Kanaloa had already joined Gentildonna as the only fillies to capture the “Triple Tiara” of the Oka Sho (Thousand Guineas), Yushin Himba (Oaks) and Shuka Sho, but the Japan Cup win put Almond Eye further into rarified air.

Almond Eye not only matched Gentildonna’s effort to win the Japan Cup as a three-year-old and broke a 14-year-old track record, but she did it in such a style that left no doubt over her quality.

Breaking from gate one, Lemaire allowed Almond Eye to stride freely into a surprisingly prominent position in the run, trailing a solid speed set by Kiseki.

Even though Almond Eye was much closer than she had been in a race previously, the change of tactics and lung burning sectionals didn’t stop Almond Eye letting down with a trademark sprint that left her rivals gasping for air.


Almond Eye set a new track record for 2400m when winning the Japan Cup. Photo by JRA.


“It wasn’t my plan,” Lemaire said of the surprise tactical move. “I was actually confused with what to do from that draw I didn’t know exactly what to do. Her first step wasn’t that quick, but she grabbed the bit very soon and it meant I could be in good position easily. When I saw Kiseki going in front, I thought, OK I will go behind. She travelled very well. Perfectly in fact, just good breathing and rhythm.”

“And I have to say I really enjoyed being in such a position, with such a filly, down the back straight I already knew the race was over. I knew her potential in that position, it was like a dream and I was just a passenger.”

With Almond Eye being asked to aim-up at global group one glory in 2019, it will be Japan’s horse racing fans who will dare to dream that an Arc win by their star will enable them to enjoy a ride like never before.