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Steady Christophe Lemaire steers Almond Eye to victory at Dubai Turf

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI

Jockey Christophe Lemaire steered Almond Eye to the horse’s first Grade 1 victory outside of Japan at the Dubai Turf on Saturday.

The four-year-old filly came from behind in the final dash to finish the 1,800-meter race at Meydan Racecourse ahead of Japan’s Vivlos, the winner of the 2017 edition.

The victory was Almond Eye’s fifth straight Grade 1 victory, having won November’s Japan Cup and completed the Triple Crown for three-year-old fillies in October.

Trainer Sakae Kunieda said he would give Almond Eye a score of 90 out 100 for her performance.

“(Almond Eye) looked like she was cruising during the race … I was able to watch without worrying about the outcome,” he said.

Nine horses from Japan competed in the race, which is part of a series of races held at the United Arab Emirates on Dubai World Cup night. Deidre, the winner of Japan’s Shuka-sho in 2017, finished fourth behind Lord Glitters.

Later in the day, Thunder Snow of the United Arab Emirates became the first horse to win back-to-back titles at the Dubai World Cup.

The five-year-old made history by becoming the first dual winner with a thrilling victory over Gronkowski at Meydan, defying a wide draw to give trainer Saeed bin Suroor his ninth success in the feature of the world’s richest raceday.

“The Dubai World Cup has been extremely kind to me and to have the pleasure of training a horse like Thunder Snow is something that’s hard to describe,” Bin Suroor told The National.

“I have always dreamed that he could win one World Cup, but to become the first horse to win two is something I am finding hard to believe.”

Favorite Capezzano and Gronkowski made the early running ahead of Thunder Snow, but the defending champion stayed on under pressure from jockey Christophe Soumillon to overhaul Gronkowski in the dying strides and win by a nose after a photo finish.

“Last year I won by five, six or more lengths and today I had to fight hard,” jockey Soumillon told the Racing Post. “The two horses in front were going a bit better than me, but I gave him a chance.”

The 4/1 shot landed the $12 million prize for Godolphin, owned by Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed.

Gronkowski, named after NFL star Rob Gronkowski who retired earlier this week, had to settle for second at odds of 28/1 despite leading for much of the mile and two furlongs, while Gunnevera (12/1) was a distant third as Capezzano slipped out of contention.

“It was very hard to get by Gronkowski,” added Frenchman Soumillon.

“I was looking more like a Cheltenham jump jockey in the end instead of an American-style jockey, but you need to keep him going and do something different.”

Earlier on Saturday, Cross Counter appeared for the first time since landing last November’s Melbourne Cup to win the Dubai Gold Cup for English trainer Charlie Appleby.

Appleby, who also sent out runner-up Ispolini, suggested his talented four-year-old would now be aimed at the Ascot Gold Cup at the Royal meeting in June.

The trainer was relieved his Sheikh Mohammed-owned stable star has not shown any ill effects from his Melbourne Cup adventure.

“It was a tough ask to go to Australia as a three-year-old and win the Melbourne Cup — it’s always in the back of your mind whether it took a bit out of him,” he said.

“But this was our first opportunity to run him since then and he’s answered all the questions we need to know.”