For the first time in history, three winners of all three Japanese Triple Crown races squared off against each other in the 40th running of the Longines Japan Cup at Tokyo Racecourse Sunday.

For the last time in history, Almond Eye entered a gate before retirement. The brilliant five year-old Lord Kanaloa mare was seeking her second Japan Cup (2018) under regular rider Christophe Lemaire.

Running in her way was three-year-old colt and eighth winner of the Japan Triple Crown (2020) Contrail, half-brother to Gentildonna. Both are by late legendary Japanese sire Deep Impact, whose name says it all.

Playing mean girl was unbeaten three-year-old filly Daring Tact, winner of this year’s Japanese Triple Tiara.

For the only time in history, Almond Eye became the oldest at five and only the second female to capture dual Japan Cups. Northern Racing stablemate Gentildonna won at three and four in 2012–13.

In a near déjà vu of the 2018 contest, won by Almond Eye in record time, long-striding Kiseki took the early lead. The son of Rulership crashed Almond Eye’s retirement party seeking to avenge his 2018 runner-up finish.

Unlike that race, however, when Kiseki held only a two-length lead into the stretch, jockey Suguru Hamanaka stretched the lead to as many as 20 lengths heading for home. The lengths-leading strategy held the hope Almond Eye’s Lemaire would more concerned with the two young challengers or get caught up in traffic, allowing Kiseki to “steal” the race with an unbeatable lead.

Lemaire was not distracted from his task however. He essentially ran two races. The first to “beat” the two prime contenders, Contrail and Daring Tact, so he could claim the center of the course and remain away from traffic; the second to pursue the now-clear path to leader Kiseki and hope Almond Eye was fresh enough to quickly make up the distance and overtake him. When he pushed the button on the brilliant Champion mare, she immediately responded.

Kiseki is two years older and, as he tired and his stride shortened, Almond Eye snatched the lead in the final 100 meters with Contrail hot on her tail. The “old” Champion and the young upstart would finish that way. Daring Tact would get up at the finish for third by a head, the order of the result identical with the betting preferences.

Almond Eye has run her final race and will  be retired to the Yoshida family’s Northern Farm as she enters prime breeding age. She says Sayonara to racing with a stellar 15: 11-2-1 record, including nine Group 1 wins.

Jockey Christophe Lemaire reminds fans Almond Eye leaves racing with 9 Group One wins including a second Japan Cup. CREDIT Masakazu Takahashi

Sire Lord Kanaloa stands at the Yoshida’s Shadai Stallion Station, also on Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido. His 2020 stud fee has been raised 5 million Yen to 20 million Yen (US $181,818), the highest fee in Japan.

Contrail and Daring Tact will continue to race as four-year-olds. Potential future racing or breeding plans have not yet been announced for ungelded Kiseki.

Feature image: Jockey Christophe Lemaire and Almond Eye are Number One. CREDIT Racing Post