Nakayama Racecourse, where races are run to the right, hosts the G1 Arima Kinen (2500m) this Sunday on Christmas Eve (24 December).
This year, even before the race, the nervous anticipation and excitement are higher than ever as Kitasan Black, a six-time Grade 1 winner, prepares for his final run. Heading into retirement if all goes well, Kitasan Black disappointed as the G1 Japan Cup (2400m) favourite to finish third, although part of the problem was attributed to a thrown shoe. Now, hopes are high once again that he will capture his seventh Grade 1 victory and go out, not only a winner, but the highest-earning horse in Japanese racing history.
Kitasan Black, now a five-year-old, has tried to win the Arima Kinen twice before and failed, finishing third in 2015 and second last year. This year, the competition is stiff and victory will not be easy.
Japan Cup winner Cheval Grand is now seen as Kitasan Black’s biggest threat, especially with the LONGINES World’s Best Jockey Hugh Bowman in the saddle. In the Japan Cup, things finally came together for the five-year-old. Having drawn the inside gate, Bowman was able to send the horse forward to race in fourth position, a strategy that proved successful and one, given the luck of the draw, he will pursue again this time out.
Though it will only be Cheval Grand’s second run at Nakayama, the extra distance is not seen as a problem, given the horse’s 2016 success in the G2 Copa Republica Argentina (2500m) at Tokyo. The track, with turns tighter than at Tokyo, is also not thought to pose too great a problem for Cheval Grand.
The Copa Republica Argentina in early November has also shone a spotlight to shine on three-year-old Suave Richard. Like Cheval Grand, Suave Richard is sired by Heart’s Cry, who won the Arima Kinen in 2005. Suave Richard returned after running second to Rey De Oro in this year’s Japanese Derby to follow Cheval Grand on the G2’s honour roll, winning by two-and-a-half lengths.
Satono Crown is known as a difficult horse, which was considered a factor in his 10th-place showing in the Japan Cup. This will be his first run in the Arima Kinen. He has had good results this year, with a win in the G1 Takarazuka Kinen (2200m) and a second in the G1 Tenno Sho Autumn (2000m). Trainer Noriyuki Hori has changed the five-year-old’s morning training, giving him a hard workout on the flat over the artificial surface, as opposed to the usual woodchip track.
Rainbow Line is gunning for his first Grade 1 after eight unsuccessful attempts. This will be his first run in the Arima Kinen, as well.
Mikki Queen is one of four females, two of them G1 winners, in the line-up. She will be looking to improve on last year’s fifth-place finish.
Sciacchetra is another one to watch. Though unsuccessful in his last four outings, a return to Nakayama – where he got his last win earlier this year in the G2 Nikkei Sho, run over the same course and distance as the Arima Kinen – could prove a big plus.