The apple of Lord Kanaloa's Eye

5 min read
Jockey Christophe Lemaire endorsed a 2019 Arc bid for Almond Eye and a possible clash with Enable after the freak filly's awe-inspiring performance further enhanced the status of her star sire Lord Kanaloa.

Almond Eye (Jpn) (Lord Kanaloa {Jpn}) was simply devastating on Sunday at Tokyo, smashing a long-standing course record by 1.5 seconds as she joined Gentildonna as the only three-year-old fillies to win the race.

The G1 Prix l'arc de Triomphe (2,400m) has become an obsession for Japanese racing fans, media and participants alike, with the heartbreaking failures by champions Deep Impact and Orefvre further fuelling a fixation with the race at Longchamp.

So it was no surprise that the first question for trainer Sakae Kunieda at the post-race press conference was whether or not Almond Eye would attempt to do what 21 horses from the Land of the Rising Sun have tried and failed to do.

"Sure we would love to go to the Arc and race Enable," a jovial Kunieda said via an interpreter, indicating that the Arc bid would likely come after a trip to Dubai earlier in the year for the Dubai Sheema Classic (2,400m) in March.

"With special horses you have to do special things and if you don't go with Almond Eye, who do you go with?" - Christophe Lemaire, jockey

Lemaire said Almond Eye's ability had presented connections with a unique opportunity to travel the world.

"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."

"She is a special horse, and with special horses you can go everywhere and choose the races you want to win. 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."

Signs of supersire

Almond Eye is from Lord Kanaloa's first crop and provided yet another boost for her sire in a week when his service fee was lifted to superstar levels.

Lord Kanaloa also had two-year-old filly Intruse score over a mile on turf earlier in the day and a week earlier another of Lord Kanaloa's first-crop, Stelvio, had beaten the older horses in the G1 Mile Championships at Kyoto.

Shadai Stallion Station announced that Lord Kanaloa's service fee has jumped from ¥8m (AUD$97,000) to ¥15m (AUS$180,000), second only on the star-studded roster to six-time champion sire Deep Impact.

Lord Kanaloa started on a service fee of ¥5m but his offspring have been popular in the sales ring right from the start, and not just in Japan.

Last year four Lord Kanaloa yearlings sold in Australia at an average of $415,000 and at the upcoming Gold Coast Magic Millions sale Arrowfield will offer Lot 266, a colt out of winning Japanese-bred mare Vasilissa.

To many, the most surprising part of Lord Kanaloa's success has been the former sprint sensation's propensity to produce elite mile and middle distance performers, and now staying stars.

Perhaps it shouldn't be such a shock though; while best known for his two Hong Kong Sprint wins and short course exploits, he also won the G1 Yasdua Kinen over Tokyo's testing mile.

Lord Kanaloa

A class above

Almond Eye had already won over 2,400m at Tokyo in the G1 Yushun Himba but class can carry a filly a long way, literally, in an Oaks.

Against older males, the Japan Cup was a true test not only of Almond Eye's class, but her staying credentials, and she passed with flying colours.

Almond Eye drew barrier one and Lemaire had the filly much closer in the run than expected, trailing a solid tempo set by runner-up Kiseki.

"It wasn't my plan," Lemaire said afterwards. "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."

"I knew her potential in that position, it was like a dream and I was just a passenger." - Christophe Lemaire

Almond Eye's final sectionals were astounding, especially given where she sat in the run, with her final 600m of 34.1 seconds and final 200m split of 11.6s giving those behind her no chance.

Almond Eye in full flight.

Lemaire believes the only thing that might stand between Almond Eye and his Arc dream, aside from Enable of course, could be soft ground.

"I think fast ground at Longchamp is quite similar to Tokyo, but if the ground is heavy that is a different matter," he said. "You need more stamina galloping on soft ground, and it can be very soft at Longchamp. She has never raced on that type of ground so until they try you never know how the horse will react. But she has power and she travels nicely, so she might be fine, it is just an unknown. It's not a reason not to go."

Now attention will turn to Almond Eye's rating of 115, which rival jockey Ryan Moore had rightly scoffed at pre-race, which should now be adjusted to have the filly rated as one of the best in the world.

Almond Eye may have gone into the Japan Cup underrated but she walked off the track with the world at her feet.

"She was a machine today, a monster," Lemaire said. "That was amazing, she is a very special horse."