Almond Eye looms large but value can be had in tonight’s Victoria Mile

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May 16th, 2020

As a card-carrying fan of #12 Almond Eye, I’m maintaining faith that she’ll be back to her best in tonight’s Victoria Mile (G1) (post time 2:40 a.m. ET) at Tokyo. If you’d rather not bet the lopsided favorite coming off her worst loss in the Arima Kinen (G1), there’s plentiful value on offer. Even if Almond Eye wins, the prices underneath are liable to make the wagering worthwhile in this “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1).

Ron Flatter reports in his Victoria Mile preview that Almond Eye lost her composure due to the crowd at Nakayama last time. That’s obviously not a concern in this time of COVID-19 spectatorless racing, and other reasons point to a rebound for Japan’s 2018 Horse of the Year.

The Dec. 22 Arima Kinen came just two weeks after Almond Eye had missed her intended start in the Dec. 8 Hong Kong Cup (G1) due to a fever. I suspect she might not have been as fit and sharp as connections believed following that illness.

So I’m tossing that thoroughly uncharacteristic effort and focusing on her otherwise sterling credentials. Almond Eye lines up back at Tokyo where she’s 4-for-5, and she brings a similarly strong 3-for-4 record at the metric mile. Her only loss at the track and trip came in last June’s Yasuda Kinen (G1), where she was hampered at the start and still just missed.

That was versus males, like her record-setting Japan Cup (G1) in 2018 and last year’s Dubai Turf (G1) and Tenno Sho Autumn (G1). Now she’s back among fellow distaffers, and barring bad racing luck, she still rates the best.

The 7-1 second choice both on the morning line and the JRA odds (as of Saturday afternoon ET), #1 Loves Only You, is logically the alternative as the once-beaten Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) (G1) winner. My only hesitation is that she was set for the about 1 1/2-mile Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) on the Dubai World Cup card canceled by coronavirus. In contrast, Almond Eye was on the scene for a title defense in the about 1 1/8-mile Dubai Turf. Loves Only You looked sharp at this trip in the past, as a juvenile, and if anything like her Dubai Turf-winning full brother Real Steel, she’ll be fine on the cutback. Still, her choice of targets in Dubai is making me overthink this.

The other obvious chances are the respective top two from the stakes-record 2019 running, #16 Normcore (15-1) and #5 Primo Scene (9-1). Normcore won under a superbly timed ride from Damian Lane, who now jumps to Primo Scene. Even so, Normcore is a bit overpriced considering she was beaten only a couple of lengths in the Hong Kong Mile (G1). Ignore her recent flop in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen (G1), which was too short and on yielding ground.

But perhaps the value will turn out to be #7 Danon Fantasy (15-1), who strikes me as the forgotten filly. The divisional champion after taking the 2018 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies (G1), she was beaten in all three Japanese fillies’ classics. But she was a respectable fourth in the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) (G1) at this distance, arguably her best trip. Since she handled about 9 furlongs when winning last fall’s Rose (G2), the stiff mile of Tokyo ought to be within her compass. Danon Fantasy ran an even fifth in her reappearance, the Hanshin Himba (G2), where she weighed 22 kilograms heavier. Fitter for this target, Danon Fantasy might be able to turn the tables on the streaking Hanshin Himba winner, #18 Sound Chiara (10-1).

For a more speculative stab, #9 Therapeia (30-1) sports a superb pedigree and consecutive Hanshin allowance wins over males in fast time. By Orfevre and out of the Grade 1-winning Tapit mare Laragh (herself a half to Summer Front), the gray wired about 7 furlongs in 1:20.30 and pounced going about 9 furlongs in 1:45.30. The class hike is the rub of course, since her only prior stakes attempt was a 14th in the 2019 Flora (G2). Yet she was sidelined afterward. Considering that she had the talent and reputation to be favored that day straight off her debut win, Therapeia has more going for her than the typical class climber.

For a big price with solid claims of hitting the board, #2 Beach Samba (25-1) has placed in a quartet of graded stakes, including Danon Fantasy’s Hanshin Juvenile Fillies and both of her appearances around Tokyo’s mile.

Before the Victoria Mile, promising dirt 3-year-olds take to the track for the 10TH (post time 2 a.m. ET), including points scorers on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby. #11 Tagano Beauty (3-1) is the one to beat after his runner-up effort to the exciting Café Pharaoh in the Hyacinth here, but don’t overlook #13 Dieu du Vin (5-1). The winner of the first Japan Road scoring race, the Nov. 23 Cattleya Sho, Dieu du Vin is 2-for-2 at this track and trip and can be forgiven his comeback run on turf.

Good luck!