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Almond Eye – best horse in the World?

Steve Moran | 01.12.2018

Opinions, and yes we all know about them, but mine is that we probably saw the best horse in the world last Sunday. That, of course, is the Japan Cup winner Almond Eye - yet another female dominating the world racing stage.

Ridden outside her usual pattern, she stalked the speed and cruised to victory in the phenomenal time of 2.20.6 for 2400 metres. The Japanese timing is questionable but add two or three seconds, if you will, it’s still an extraordinary gallop and about five seconds faster than the fastest Caulfield Cup.

With due respect to Winx, the age difference – Almond Eye is about to turn four in the northern hemisphere – would have me inclined to back the Japanese filly if they happened to meet anywhere from 2000 metres to 2400 metres.

Curiously, when you watch her two previous wins in the Shuka Sho and the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) you’d swear you were watching Winx as she settled back, travelled sweetly and rounded her rivals up with ease when called upon.

Her stunning Japan Cup win is not, of course, reflected in the current IFHA rankings which were released on 4 November. Nor is it likely to be when the next ratings are issued on 23 January as the runner-up Kiseki is not high enough rated to be pushing a number close to the peak for Almond Eye.

However, I’d still argue she is almost certainly and currently the world’s best. The international handicappers are, of course, bound by the maths whereas punters can simply believe what they see.

The current rankings have the now retired Cracksman atop the list with Winx. Cracksman is flattered. He won only one Group 1 race on good ground which was the Prix Ganay beating the moderate Wren’s Day.

Two of other top six middle distance performers have also been retired to stud – Roaring Lion and Poet’s Word. That leaves us with Winx, who is surely and hopefully soon to be retired (while on top), plus Enable and Crystal Ocean.

Almond Eye would have no trouble taking care of Crystal Ocean. Enable might be another story as she’s a winner but she may be a touch flattered by having won two relatively modest editions of the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe. It won’t be modest if Almond Eye and Enable get to that race in 2019.

Interestingly, next weekend’s Hong Kong International races will shed some light on relative form. Waldgeist and Salouen, where were solid in this year’s Arc, contest the Vase and Salouen did run Cracksman to a head in the Coronation Cup.

Hong Kong Cup contender Sungrazer did split Rey De Oro and Japan Cup runner-up Kiseki in the Tenno Sho Autumn so his effort will provide some form reference regarding Along Eye.

Tough but not certainly impossible to win first time out in Hong Kong

When Hong Kong Mile contender Beat The Bank beat Vincy in a modest maiden on the Dundalk Polytrack in February 2017, it would have been write your own ticket odds that anyone could have predicted they’d both race, for the first time, in Hong Kong within a week of each other, almost 20 months later.

But that is the case with with the now Frankie Lor trained Vincy, who was – like Beat The Bank – racing for the first time that day at Dundalk, scheduled to run in Sunday’s Salisbury Handicap at Sha Tin (race 10) while the Hong Kong Mile hopeful is scheduled to arrive here on Saturday night (tonight).

Vincy went on to win his next two starts for original trainer Martin Halford while Beat The Bank was sold after the maiden win and transferred from trainer Darren Bunyan to Andrew Balding.

This ‘research’ was prompted by the fact that Vincy is just one of a rather surprisingly large number of debutants this Sunday, 13 in total. And, while not many horses win first time out in Hong Kong, several of these have interesting resumes.

Some, of course, do win on debut – like Lakeshore Eagle as recently as Wednesday night and the newcomers can’t be summarily dismissed. The Chris So trained Lakeshore Eagle has the distinction of being the first ‘freshman’ to win from a preparation at Conghua.

So, who’s been patient with his new stock, has two further newcomers stepping out on Sunday (I Do and Bright Kid) while David Ferraris, Me Tsui and Frankie Lor also have multiple debutants.

Lor, aside from Vincy, has another of the aforementioned ‘interesting runners’ in Glorious Spectrum who won four of six starts in Italy and was G3 placed. The Italian Umberto Rispoli, fittingly, takes the mount in the Nathan Handicap (race nine).

His opposition, curiously enough, includes the Me Tsui trained Ugly Warrior who’s won five of his six starts in Hong Kong including victory on debut at this meeting last year. Last year’s corresponding fixture winners also included Hot King Prawn and Sparkling Dragon who had been debut winners.

Glorious Spectrum and Bear Slam, for David Ferraris, arrive with high enough ratings to demand they’re tested at Class 2 level. Bear Slam, then known as Purser and trained by John Gosden, ran fourth at Group 3 level at Sandown in September last year – behind Epsom Derby winner Masar and Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Romanised.

Francis Lui also produces the well credentialled Perfect Buddy for the first time. He was sold after finishing third, at Doomben in Queensland last December, behind subsequent Group 2 winner Pierata who was third to Santa Ana Lane in the Group 1 VRC Classic on the final day of Flemington’s Melbourne Cup carnival.

All Thrills Too was one of the more notable debut winners in Hong Kong, scored first time out on International day in 2000. Two years later, of course, he won the Hong Kong Sprint.

For the record, the stats show that 27 first-timers won at 6.3 per cent last season and 29 at 7.5 per cent year before. That doesn’t include HKIR visitors and, of course, there will often be multiple debutants in the same race and. At the end of the day, it really comes down to case by case.

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