Dubai World Cup: Almond Eye on a mission to make history

There has been a buzz around Meydan racecourse in Dubai this week, an unmistakeable fanfare for a horse that could be a freak of nature. It is the sound of a hundred cameras firing at 12 frames per second every time she steps onto the track, and the hubbub of reporters descending on her trainer and rider whenever they break cover. International racing, meet Almond Eye: the new beast from the east and a horse on a mission to make history.

Japan’s best racehorses do not leave home to take on the world very often. Why would they? The Japanese programme is richly-endowed with prize money, racing is the only major sport on which gambling is allowed and about £1bn is returned to the sport from betting every year.

For the owners of the very best horses, though, there comes a point where the money is not enough. When a horse has done all it can in Japan, an international stage beckons and if the media circus surrounding her is any guide, Almond Eye is the most exciting horse to emerge from Japan since the unforgettable afternoon in Paris in 2006 when Deep Impact went to post for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Deep Impact finished third in front of a crowd that was estimated to include between 10,000 and 15,000 travelling fans from Japan. The Arc is already pencilled in as Almond Eye’s ultimate target this year, as it has for John Gosden’s Enable, and even at this early stage, a meeting between the two, with Sea Of Class, last year’s narrow runner-up in the Arc, possibly making it a trio of brilliant mares and fillies, it promises to be a race for the ages.

But first, Almond Eye has to show that her best form travels. In 2018, she became only the fifth horse to complete Japan’s Triple Crown for fillies, but it was her subsequent win in the Japan Cup in November, in a record time, that marked her out as a potential superstar. Almond Eye settled beautifully for Christophe Lemaire, her jockey, a couple of lengths behind a very strong pace then moved to the front approaching the final furlong under a hand ride.

It would be unfair to expect a repeat of that on Saturday, when Almond Eye will be racing for the first time in four months. But she has looked in fine condition during her early-morning workouts this week and Sakae Kunieda, her trainer, has said that there could be an even bigger performance in Almond Eye as she progresses through a season that could also include a trip to York’s Ebor meeting in August. “Even I don’t know where her limit is yet,” Kunieda said this week. “She is a really special filly [and] she has relaxed into her Dubai surroundings very well.”

William Buick, last year’s Derby-winning jockey on Masar, was a distant spectator on ninth-placed Satono Crown when Almond Eye took the Japan Cup and rides Dream Castle, the second-favourite with British bookmakers, against her on Saturday.

“Start before her,” Buick said this week, when asked if he had a game plan to win.

“In many ways she’s the star attraction of the night. Obviously, beating her is going to be a very hard thing to do. She’s fast, she stays and on what she showed in Japan, she looks very, very versatile. She’s a special filly.”

Greg Wood’s accommodation in Dubai is provided by the Emirates Racing Authority


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