By Michael Cox
Christophe Lemaire never seems rushed but after riding Almond Eye in her final serious gallop before Sunday’s G1 Tenno Sho he is a man at ease ahead of the mare’s return against an all-star field.
Maybe it has been the success of Black Caviar, Winx and Enable that has made us forget that champion form as a young filly doesn’t always transfer to open-age and that, with each passing year, for mares form can be fleeting. Once a mare decides it’s time for the breeding barn, that can be it, but Lemaire’s final feel of the champion filly at Miho Training Centre assuaged any concerns, in fact Lemaire suggested the best is yet to come for a still lightly raced horse.
“Maybe she is not yet at her top yet,” Lemaire said after Almond Eye cruised through an impressive dirt spin, clocking 12.2 seconds for her final furlong without so much as a squeeze from the Frenchman. “But we do have to consider that she has had a long break , she hasn’t run since the Yasuda Kinen (in June) and that now she is a four-year-old mare.”
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“She has to prove that she still wants to run and fight for the win. In the morning I felt she was very competitive and she has a great temperament. She is still the same, like she was before her big wins, so that makes me feel confident about the race on Sunday.”
That last defeat, one of only two in Almond Eye’s stellar nine start career, has some looking for reasons to take a set against the daughter of Lord Kanaloa, with some claiming that Saturnalia is more favoured by the testing Fuchu layout, with it’s long, rising straight and fast turns.
“No way,” Lemaire said of the theory, pointing to Almond Eye’s stunning Japan Cup display. “She (Almond Eye) broke the mile-and-a-half record at the track, maybe they think she is vulnerable at Tokyo because she lost last time in the Yasuda Kinen, but it was only because of the ground she lost at the start and that the trip might have been a bit short for her, she just couldn’t make up that ground.”
“Almond Eye is a big striding horse as well, she travels very well during the race and isn’t too keen, and the long straight is actually very good for her.”
Lemaire does agree that the royally bred Saturnalia – also by Lord Kanaloa and out of grand-producing mare Cesario – is the “biggest danger”, especially after riding the colt to victory in G2 Kobe Shimbun Hai a month ago.
“Saturnalia is a horse with a lot of class,” said Lemaire, who also won the Satsuki Sho (2,000 Guineas) on the three-year-old in April. “He has a tremendous action, he won very nicely in the G2, he is still improving and he has the advantage of having a run already. 2,000m looks like the perfect trip to him so he will be the main danger.”
Early public driven odds forecast for the huge Tenno Sho on Sunday :
ALMOND EYE 1.7
DANON PREMIUM 8.8
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The barrier draw certainly fell the way of Almond Eye, barrier two giving Lemaire a perfect spot to track likely leader Aerolithe, with Saturnalia drawn 10 for champion jockey Christophe Soumillon. The early public betting predictions had it two-horse race, with Almond Eye rated odds-on at $1.70 ahead of Saturnalia at $3.10.
Silk Racing has indicated pre-race that December’s G1 Hong Kong Cup is an option for Almond Eye and Lemaire threw his considerable weight behind a trip to Sha Tin should she come through Sunday’s run unscathed.
“Hong Kong is definitely in the connections’ mind, and I think the 2000m at Sha Tin is perfect for her,” he said. “The straight at Sha Tin is long enough for her and she likes good ground, so it would be a good race for her. The way she runs, I think 2,000m is her best trip. ”