Damian Lane went to Japan earlier this season looking a new life experiences – any wins would be a bonus – but less than eight months later his mid-year Asian sojourn has proven career-changing and a dream 2019 was capped with a dominant Arima Kinen win aboard Lys Gracieux on Sunday.
Lane left Australia in April an established star in Australia, fresh off a Golden Slipper triumph, but rode 32 wins in a two month stint that included two top level wins – one of them on Lys Gracieux in the Takarazuka Kinen – and it made him a sought after commodity in Japan
He returned to Australia armed with that support, won the G1 Caulfield Cup on Mer De Glace and then the Cox Plate on Lys Gracieux, but Sunday’s triumph – in which the West Australian native rode a perfect race on the mare – will cement his reputation in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Trainer Yohshito Yahagi had declared pre-race that he would leave tactics to his jockey and Lane eyes on just one horse: hot favourite Almond Eye.
From gate six, Lane nestled Lys Gracieux just forward of midfield on the fence and as Aerolithe set a stamina-sapping tempo, Almond Eye was left posted three-wide with Christophe Lemaire struggling to get the champion to settle after some early bumps.
Almond Eye produced a gutsy sprint from the top of the straight but was clearly not at her best, peaking on her run, before Lane timed his run beautifully as he peeled off heels and surged away for a stunning five length win on the 6.7 second favourite.
“Obviously, I went into the race thinking Almond Eye would be hard to beat but I just had so much confidence in this horse, the way she improved out of the Takarazuka Kinen into the Cox Plate and Yahagi-san said she’s improved again,” an emotional Lane said post-race. “I just knew she was going to run a big race. It was a really good pace and I found a lovely spot back in the rail. I didn’t know what sort of track I was going to get but a space opened up and she did the rest.”
Aerolithe led them at a brutal pace, but it was Cox Plate winner Lys Gracieux who soared home late to destroy them in the G1 Arima Kinen! pic.twitter.com/HruSWYECvK
— TVG (@TVG) December 22, 2019
Runner-up Saturnalia (7.8) and third-placed World Premiere (13.4) benefitted from the fierce speed to run into the minor placings, but Almond Eye (1.5) faded to finish ninth, with Lemaire saying the mare was uncharacteristically fired up in front of the big crowd pre-race.
“She was physically fit and in good condition but she couldn’t keep her calm before the crowd in the first lap and lost her rhythm. She was unable to relax and was tired as it was a 2,500-meter race,” he said.