The countdown has begun, to not only the New Year, but also to one of the biggest days in the Japanese horseracing calendar: the 61st Arima Kinen (The Grand Prix) will be staged on Sunday, Dec. 25 at Nakayama Racecourse in Chiba Prefecture, near Tokyo. Each year, a fan vote decides which horses will enter the starting gate in the Group 1 contest. The “dream race” looks sure to live up to its name again this year, with a number of factors combining to draw huge numbers of fans to the track again this Sunday. Even Santa Claus could be forgiven for taking the day off.
The race is run over 2,500 meters and is for 3-year-olds and above. There have been 18 nominations for a maximum field of 16 runners. It's a race where fans vote for who they want to see run, and this time around, it's the big, striding horse,Kitasan Black who tops the fans' list, garnering over 130,000 votes. The race has been kind to market leaders in the past 10 years, with five first favorites and two second favorites winning. As for the age of the winners during the same period, four 4-year-olds have won, just beating out 3 and 5-year-olds, who have won three times apiece. So going by those statistics, the fans seem to know where they stand in putting Kitasan Black atop their list.
Big lead up races to the Arima Kinen include the Japan Cup, Queen Elizabeth II Cup, and Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger), all Grade 1 races, and all run in the past couple of months. Prize money for this year's Arima Kinen is a hefty 648 million yen in total, with 300 million yen going to the winner. Some great names, both horses and jockeys, have claimed the race in the past, and there have been six horses to win the race twice, the latest one being Orfevre, who won in 2011 and 2013. This year Gold Actor has the chance to join this elite group.
The race record time is held by Zenno Rob Roy, who won the race in 2004 in a time of 2 minutes, 29.5 seconds. The Arima Kinen, one of the world's biggest races when it comes to betting turnover, will be Race 10 on the card at Nakayama on Sunday, and the runners line up at 15:25 local time.
Here's a look at some of the entries in this year's showpiece:
Kitasan Black: This 4-year-old colt by Black Tide is fast approaching legendary status, along with his owner and jockey, who have already reached that point. Who can forget the way the colt won this year's Japan Cup, when just finding more and more down the straight at Tokyo under rider Yutaka Take. “Since I've been riding him, that's been his strongest performance so far,” Take said recently. Trained by Hisashi Shimizu, Kitasan Black has eight wins from a 13-race career up to now, and two wins have come at Nakayama. The track would seem perfect for him in his recent catch-me-if-you-can running style. On Dec. 14, he worked as usual with his work rider on the woodchip course, and it's all systems go for him to add another big prize to his impressive race record.
Satono Diamond: The only 3-year-old in the lineup, this Deep Impact colt was an impressive winner of this year's Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger) and is trained by Yasutoshi Ikee, a master of getting horses just right for a big race. Satono Diamond was given a rest at the farm after his exertions in the Kikuka Sho, but is now back refreshed and raring to go again. He recently trained with stablemates, Air Camuzet and Satono Rasen, to the satisfaction of his trainer. The horse has never been unplaced in his seven career starts, and they include five wins. Christophe Lemaire has ridden the colt in all his races, and come Sunday he'll be aboard again, gunning for his 10th Grade 1 in Japan.
Cheval Grand: This 4-year-old colt is a half brother to two-time Grade 1 winner, Verxina, and also this year's Shuka Sho winner, Vivlos, and is rising to the top fast. In work at Ritto Training Center on Dec. 15, he clocked a six furlong time on the woodchip course in 79.2 seconds, with three furlongs at 37.8 seconds, and a final furlong time of 12.6 seconds, the best times he's ever recorded. “He does his work well with good responses,” trainer Yasuo Tomomichi said. “It's his first time at Nakayama, but the jockey's confident. Yuichi Fukunaga will ride him in work this Wednesday.” Cheval Grand is owned by baseball great, Kazuhiro Sasaki, and is coming off a third place finish in the Japan Cup, prior to which he won the Grade 2 Copa Republica Argentina over 2,500 meters at Tokyo in November.
Gold Actor: Last year's Arima Kinen winner, Gold Actor is a 5-year-old by Screen Hero who has won four times at Nakayama from six starts at the track. Overall he's won nine times from 17 starts, and most recently finished a bold fourth in the Japan Cup. Trainer Tadashige Nakagawa reports “no big change in his condition since the Cup.” Jockey Hayato Yoshida has certainly made the ride his, having ridden Gold Actor a total of 11 times, and will take the ride again on Sunday.
Mikki Queen: Strengthening trainer Yasutoshi Ikee's grip on the race is Mikki Queen. In work at Ritto Training Center on Dec 15, she posted a six furlong time of 81.6 seconds, with three furlongs at 37.7 seconds, and a final furlong in 11.6 seconds. “She's moving well and her breathing's getting better,” Ikee said. “She'll be taking on top class older horses in the race, and the key point will be how well she can do that.” The Deep Impact filly has two Grade 1 wins to her name, the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) and the Shuka Sho, both in 2015. She most recently finished third in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup, and it will be her first run at Nakayama.
Sounds of Earth: This 5-year-old by Neo Universe got the closest to Kitasan Black in the Japan Cup, when finishing off well to take second. He seems destined to finish second in all too many of his races, having been runner-up eight times in 19 starts, and sure enough that's where he finished in last year's Arima Kinen. The stable reports there's no tiredness after his latest run, and he's been working with stablemate, Deep Mitaka, in recent training. In seven Grade 1s, his best placing has been second on three occasions. Connections are hoping they can end the jinx, and if anybody can it's his jockey, Mirco Demuro. He has landed four Grade 1 wins already this year, and he's stalking his 19th Grade 1 overall in Japan.
Marialite: This will be the final run for the 5-year-old mare by Deep Impact, who won this year's Grade 1 Takarazuka Kinen over 2,200 meters early this summer. She has raced in four Grade 1 races throughout her career and has won two of them. Trainer Takashi Kubota is hoping for a good finish to her career. “Since returning to the stable after a break, she looks to be in good shape,” Kubota said. “I want to have her just right for her last run.” Marialite has raced at Nakayama seven times for two wins, and finished fourth in last year's Arima Kinen. Jockey Masayoshi Ebina will don the U Carrot Farm colors for the 16th time aboard the mare this Sunday.
Yamakatsu Ace: The 4-year-old chestnut colt by King Kamehameha is coming off a Grade 2 win in the Kinko Sho at Chukyo over 2,000 meters on Dec. 3. He was bred at Okada Bokujo and is trained by Kaneo Ikezoe. Three of his 21 one starts have been Grade 1 races, in which he's been unplaced, but he does have six career wins to his name.
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