Almond Eye is without question the most popular topic in Japanese racing circles this year thanks to her sweep of the Japanese Fillies’ Triple Crown and her feat in becoming only the second three-year-old filly to claim the G1 Japan Cup since Gentildonna in 2012.
The incredible filly has certainly led the way for the females this season, just as Winx has done in Australia. The question now is whether the four fillies and mares, among this year’s group of nine Japanese horses competing in Sunday’s (9 December) LONGINES Hong Kong International Races, can follow that lead.
More than 20 fillies or mares from Japan have competed at the HKIR down the years but none of them have been able to raise Japan’s Hinomaru (national flag).
Japanese trained females have won in France, Dubai and the United States, yet their best effort in Hong Kong has been Nuovo Record’s second place in the 2015 G1 Hong Kong Cup (2000m). But this year’s quartet looks strong enough to potentially break the drought.
Deirdre (JPN) (saddle cloth 1) walk the parade run with Vivlos (JPN) (saddle cloth 13), picture Liesl King
Deirdre, the only filly running in the HK$28 million Hong Kong Cup, had a very good third placed performance in the G1 Dubai Turf at Meydan this March and she is aiming for her second win at the highest level.
She won last year’s G1 Shuka Sho, the third leg of the Fillies’ Triple Crown. After her Dubai trip and a spell, she won the G3 Queen Stakes at Sapporo in July by a solid three lengths. She then went to the G2 Fuchu Himba Stakes at Tokyo in October and showed an impressive turn of foot going very wide before getting her neck down to beat Lys Gracieux.
Trainer Mitsuru Hashida said: “We skipped the G1 Tenno Sho because we only had a two-week gap between the two races, and as her best distance should be from 1800m to 2000m, we also took the 2200 metres Queen Elizabeth II Cup off the schedule.”
Hashida expects her to run well: “Since her third-place effort at Meydan, we expected she would like the turf at Sha Tin and decided to aim at the Hong Kong International Races. We have no concern about the distance and I have high hopes for her.”
Vivlos, the highly-talented full-sister to two-time G1 Victoria Mile winner Verxina and the half-sister to the 2017 Japan Cup winner Cheval Grand, will make her final career start in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile. After winning the 2017 Dubai Turf in magnificent style, helped along by Joao Moreira, the filly attempted to defend her Dubai title this year but had to be content with second behind Benbatl.
The well-bred and lightly-raced daughter of Deep Impact has not run over the 1600m since finishing unplaced in the G3 Tulip Sho in March 2016. With three wins and three seconds between 1800m and 2200m, a middle distance is likely her best trip, but trainer Yasuo Tomomichi said: “She seems to do her best with a one-turn course, which makes sense given her performances in the Dubai Turf. This is the reason why we have decided to come to Hong Kong.”
Tomomichi continued: “She hit the gates when breaking in the Tenno Sho and was last out and wounded her nose, but she is fine now. This is her first time to Hong Kong so that was a bit of a concern for me at first, but she is a proven shipper and has settled in well. She has done all she needed to before we brought her here. Obviously, the race is going to be a strong one but she is fit and ready. The draw (7) is what I wanted most, as it complements her running style. I really hope she can run her race.”
Two Japanese ladies will try to lift the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase. Crocosmia, a five-year-old daughter of Stay Gold - the 2001 Hong Kong Vase winner - has a G1 second and a G2 win in her form. She was the ninth betting choice in the G1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup, last start, but almost succeeded in atoning for her runner-up finish in the race last year. She was caught by Japan’s other female Vase contender Lys Gracieux with 100 metres remaining and finished second again.
Katsuichi Nishiura, the trainer of Crocosmia, has higher expectations and is happier with her condition than early this spring when she was in Dubai because, he said, the trip to Hong Kong has been much easier than the long flight to the desert.
Nishiura said: “If she is able to get to the front, she is happy. The nice draw (1) should give her a chance. If the daughter of Stay Gold follows in her father’s footsteps to win the race, it would be a great thing for me.”
Landing a long-awaited G1 victory in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup last month, Lys Gracieux is a very competitive filly who has four seconds at the highest level in her form. Like many horses she dropped weight from travelling, but she has eaten up well since she arrived.
Trainer Yoshito Yahagi said: “This time she has put her weight back on, which indicates she has bloomed.”
The four-year-old by Heart’s Cry will start from barrier 12, on which Yahagi commented: “When she won the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, it was also stall 12. It is a sign of good luck.”
The Sha Tin master Joao Moreira will be aboard on Sunday and rode her in work, earlier this week. “She felt great. This will be the strongest race of the four, but she is a nice filly with proven ability to win a G1 race,” the former Hong Kong champion jockey said.