Passion, defined by values such as continuously moving forward, innovating, and improving is an intrinsic part of what makes up the multi-group winning Japanese trainer, Sakae Kunieda. This year, Kunieda will not be bringing his filly Almond Eye back to Dubai to defend her Dubai Turf crown but also bringing his other charge Curren Bouquetd'or to attempt the Gr.1 Dubai Sheema Classic.
“I’ve visited Dubai with Almond Eye last year and luckily she won the race. I thought that I would be back to Dubai with her again if she does not retire in 2020. The final plan for Dubai was decided just after she runs in the Arima Kinen (JRA Grand Prix Race held in late December every year).”
In the case of Curren Bouquetd'or, it was simply a case of finding the right-shaped course for her. The daughter of Deep Impact prefers counter-clockwise courses like Tokyo and Dubai. After her outstanding performance in the Gr.1 Japan cup where she was marginally defeated by Sauve Richard, Kunieda decided that she should be aimed at Dubai next.
“The number one reason why she runs in Dubai is her performance in last year's Japan Cup. The shape of Meydan Racecourse is similar to Tokyo Racecourse, so I believe she can run well in Dubai.”
The globe-trotting trainer is confident of his fillies arriving in the best of shape for the Dubai World Cup race day, “Both horses will arrive in Dubai on Thursday, March 9th. As for transportation from Japan to Dubai, I'm not worried about it, because she is very quiet and the transportation company is very professional as well. They took good care of Almond Eye last year when she was transported to Dubai.”
And the astute professional already some longer-term plans in place as well for the superstar fillies, “For Almond Eye, I'm considering letting her run in the same race as last year, so probably her next target after running in Dubai will be Yasuda Kinen which will be held at Tokyo Racecourse on June 7th (1,600m Turf). For Curren Bouquetd'or, she will take a rest for a while after coming back to Japan.”
Kunieda maintains that for horses, it is the mental fortitude is the deciding factor when winning a big race. Almond Eye has fortitude in spades along with physical ability, “She is a professional and her commitment to victory is strong.”
“Her personality is completely different from the time of a race and outside of that. Of course, I will be very happy if she wins the race. It will be her first race this year. I want to show everyone that she is still alive and well after she lost the race in the ArimaKinen last year, and if she can win as a result, I think it will expand her future prospects.”
Neither horse was considered for The Saudi Cup race day, they were not found suitable by the top conditioner. But there is nothing to stop him from considering it in 2021.
Raceday strategy is usually a closely guarded secret. However, Kunieda’s plan is quite ingenious, “We won once last year, so I think the scheduled jockey knows how to ride. I will think about the details after the draw is decided, but I hope she can relax anyway and carry it in the first half of the race.”
Japanese superstar Almond Eye was pulled out of the Gr.1 Hong Kong Cup due to an elevated temperature. The multiple Group One was to have raced Hong Kong’s multiple Groups winning Beauty Generation when she was pulled out of quarantine in Japan and aborting plans to run in the HK$28 million events.
Kunieda was hopeful of seeing the duo go head-to-head in Dubai again and so did most of their fans. “I think there are lots of strong horses in Hong Kong. I am really looking forward to seeing my horse running with Beauty Generation in Dubai Turf.” This time, however, the Hong Kong super star’s connections decided to chart a different career map for their champion, who will be retiring later this year, making the epic race a complete non-starter.
The telepathic and empathic trainer knew that he had a ’special one’ on his hands when Almond Eye first moved to his care, “When she was one year old, it was decided to accept her in my stable. The horse owner “Silk Horse Club” asked me to do so. Her training was quite different from that of a normal horse and I immediately saw that she was a horse with a special talent.”
His own aspirations include winning some of the most iconic races in the world, “It is the Japanese Derby title that I want to get in Japan. Globally, I would like to get the title of Breeders’ Cup or Prix de L’arc de Triomphe if the opportunity arises.”
Although Kunieda graduated as a veterinarian, his passion leaned towards training horses, “I was originally a huge fan of horse racing. That is why, when I graduated from a university (as a veterinarian), I made up my mind to join the horse racing world. What intrigues me most in horse racing is the fact that it is a blood sport (i.e. a sport which has a high significance to racing excellence derived from genetics). Also, I have been so excited to see lots of talented thoroughbred horses in the world competing with each other.”
"Because a horse is a living thing, I think that it is important to understand the feelings of the horse. I keep that in my mind and try to do that. The same is true of not putting too much pressure on the horse.”
With continuous encouragement from his peers and his elders means the world to Kunieda, “I have received great encouragement from other trainers and my team members who are working hard every day, aiming at the top in the horse racing world. I think this had led to an improvement in my personal awareness.”
“It’s Mr Kazuo Fujisawa, JRA trainer, one of the major opinion leaders in horse racing society in Japan., who has had the biggest influence on my career He obtained JRA trainer’s license earlier than I and have a great deal of experience. For example, he learned a lot about horses, horse philosophy, and theory and so on, while he worked for an English trainer in the U.K before getting JRA trainer’s license. I respect him.”
2019 was the first time Kunieda had the opportunity to race at Meydan, “Of course, I was so excited to see her (Almond Eye’s) performance at Meydan. Other than that, I went to Dubai Theatre to see the musical “Thriller” by Michel Jackson with my wife and was overwhelmed by that performance.
The consummate world-traveller believes his own playing ground is number one, “I would have to raise Tokyo Racecourse as my favourite racecourse in the world. It is one of the fairest courses in comparison to other racecourses in the world.”
“The other would be perhaps Meydan Racecourse. This racetrack is also wide and has less advantage due to the draw. I also think that Japanese horses can easily fit in there.”
In the end, Kunieda let us onto a small career secret which probably is the reason behind his successful racing career, “Family support is essential in doing my job because I can feel relaxed. I think it’s important for people and horses to face things with plenty of time and space.”