Early yesterday evening I was flicking through the channels and was slightly surprised to land on Eurosport’s showing a recording of the closing stages of the Japan Cup, run overnight in Tokyo, writes Tony Stafford. The winner was named as Almond Eye and my ears pricked up when the announcer related that the race had been run “in record time”.
In the matter of such eventualities, I immediately did some research and found that Almond Eye, a three-year-old filly, making only her fifth career start, was a 2-5 chance defending an unbeaten record in a 14-runner field. In the 38th running of Japan’s most celebrated race, she sliced 1.5 seconds off the previous best time, set in 2005 by the Frankie Dettori-ridden and Luca Cumani-trained Alkaased.
I was interested in how Capri had done but sadly the 2017 St Leger winner’s truncated season did not end on a high note. Only a few Europeans have managed victory. In its third running, 1983, Epsom-based jockey Brian Rouse won aboard the Frank Dunne-trained and family-owned Stanerra.
That well-travelled mare also collected a couple of times at Royal Ascot for her Irish connections, owners of Dunnes Stores, and previously and indeed subsequently patrons of Jim Bolger’s stable. Stanerra’s record of over-achievement from her small private yard also included an Ascot track record.
Still early in the Cup’s history, Clive Brittain won with Lady Tavistock’s home-bred Jupiter Island, while also before the turn of the century Michael Stoute (pre-knighthood) took successive renewals (96-7) with his great middle-distance world prospectors, Singspiel and Pilsudski.
Clearly it takes a decent horse to win the Cup. Alkaased was a hard-knocking five-year-old when holding off the very talented Heart’s Cry and Christophe Lemaire by a head in a race where the four-year-old filly Ouija Board finished only fifth. That great Ed Dunlop trainee returned a year later to record a highly-creditable third to Deep Impact, the outstanding stallion in Japan over the past decade and sire of Saxon Warrior.
In his turn, Deep Impact is a son of Sunday Silence, horse of the year in the US in 1989, but denied the Triple Crown the previous year by career-long rival Easy Goer, with an eight-length defeat in the 1988 Belmont Stakes after his own narrow victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
I had the good fortune to visit Japan in 1992 and that trip included a trip to Shadai Farm in Hokkaido where we saw Sunday Silence just before the momentous stud career which transformed Japanese racing and breeding. The son of Halo, another great, Sunday Silence died in the same year, 2002, in which Deep Impact was foaled.
My itinerary also took in visits to Tokyo for the Cup, and Hanshin racecourse near Osaka for an international jockeys’ event at which Pat Eddery was among the contestants. My Tokyo tour included a stop off at the office of Mitsuoko Haga, owner of the great Michael Kauntze-trained filly Kooyonga, who had been an intended runner in the Cup until her form tailed off at the end of that season. Mr Haga, a golf course developer at the time of spectacular growth in the sport in Japan, had a window in his office in which Mount Fuji was perfectly framed.
I was intrigued by the Almond Eye time, as to take a full one per cent, one and a half seconds, off 142.1sec seemed quite excessive. We get used to shaving rather than slicing. I wondered whether the components of Almond Eye’s pedigree offer the clue. I have a friend who believes emphatically that the dam is at least as important as the sire, and as he has only three horses and two of them are the high-class pair Spark Plug and Raheen House, it is easy to listen to his opinion at least.
Almond Eye’s dam Fusaichi Pandora also ran in the 2006 race won by Deep Impact and like him is by Sunday Silence, indeed they were among six by him in that 11-horse field. Fusiachi Pandora ended her career in the corresponding race a year later, finishing unplaced behind Admire Moon and retiring with a career tally of two wins in 12 starts, all in good company.
But it is when we come to Almond Eye’s sire, Lord Kanaloa, that we strike gold. The 2008-sired son of multiple champion stallion, King Kamehameha, won nine of 13 races culminating on his final start in the 2013 Hong Kong Sprint at Sha Tin, beating Sole Power by five lengths.
In that far-reaching career he only once raced as far as a mile – narrowly winning the 18-runner Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen – but in first-crop product Almond Eye, he has already clearly demonstrated the ability to get his progeny to stay much further. No wonder the filly has been promoted to the front of the Arc betting for next year.
The Japanese have had dreadful luck in that race, which was one of only two defeats for Deep Impact when he finished third – later disqualified for a banned substance – behind Rail Link and Pride but ahead of 2005 winner, Hurricane Run, in 2006. Incidentally the same Heart’s Cry, narrowly beaten in the second-fastest Japan Cup, was the only horse to defeat Deep Impact in Japan, when regular jockey Yutaka Take gave the champion too much to do in the Arima Kinen (Grand Prix).
Meanwhile, on domestic shores, I had an unusual experience at the weekend but one which still afforded me much of the excitement of a great day’s racing. Owing to a staff crisis, I was a late addition to the racecourse bookstall at Ascot, run by war hero, one-time bank official and protector of old school manners, Sir Rupert Mackeson.
Having had a few weeks when Mrs S was hampered by a broken leg and ankle, needing wheelchair accompaniment around Tesco – every little helps – and support of crutches (happily at an end) around the house, I marvel at how Rupert manages with a severe disablement caused by a broken back. His long stick, effective as a weapon when necessary, is his means of mobility, but he is still limited and further hampered by an irritating driving ban. How he can run a book stall with all the humping about, I cannot conceive, but manage heroically he does.
We had a couple of nice signings from authors of Christmas-suitable volumes, Colin Tizzard popping up on Friday to put his name to his book on Cue Card, quite a favourite, and then Henrietta Knight and David Ashforth on Saturday for their offerings respectively on The Jumping Game and Fifty Shades of Hay.
The still-hirsute Ashforth retains an impish quality far beneath his years and he – or his publisher – certainly has a gift for knowing what will stop especially ladies of a certain vintage in their tracks as they peruse the stand. Henrietta’s presence was especially valued by me as she reported on last week’s school by Ray Tooth’s Apres Le Deluge, also passing on the news that he’ll be back again for a final top up on Wednesday before next week’s hurdling debut at Exeter. Hen said: “I never bet, but I’m going to back him!” I think we should take note and don’t miss Say Nothing at Wolverhampton on Wednesday either.