Nakayama Racecourse hosts the G1 Arima Kinen, Japan’s most-beloved race, on Sunday, 22 December. The 2500m turf event over a right-handed track attracts Japan’s best talent and the stakes are high, with a first-place prize matching the G1 Japan Cup’s 300 million yen.
The race’s 64th running boasts one of its most impressive lineups in recent years, with 11 G1 winners among the full field of 16 runners. Ages range from three to seven, with older horses assigned 126lb and a 5lb-allowance given to the females and the three-year-olds.
The ladies are well represented this year with a total of five female runners. Youth this year is especially strong, with a trio of three-year-olds all attracting a good share of attention, especially with Blast Onepiece’s victory last year still fresh in memories. Arima Kinen veterans Rey de Oro, Suave Richard and Kiseki are back for second tries and Cheval Grand takes on his fourth Arima challenge.
Fan ballots help determine which runners compete, and this year, not only will the top four horses from the voting be in the race, 10 of the top 13 horses fans most want to see run in the Arima Kinen are ready to clash.
The real gem among them, is of course, Almond Eye. The virtually invincible filly was the favourite in the fan voting. At the time ballots were being cast, the plan was to race her in Hong Kong and pass on the Arima. But an elevated temperature close to her intended departure for Hong Kong meant that Almond Eye was hurriedly nominated for the Arima Kinen.
A winner of six Grade 1 events, including victories both at home and abroad, Almond Eye comes off an impressive first-place in the autumn version of the Tenno Sho (2000m, Tokyo) on 27 October. She’s never finished out of the money, but she’s also never raced at Nakayama. Christophe Lemaire is in the saddle.
Early odds predictions have Almond Eye the shoo-in favourite, followed by Lys Gracieux. Three-year-olds Saturnalia and World Premiere follow and after them are Fierement, Suave Richard, Velox and Kiseki. Rey de Oro, Aerolithe, Etario and Al Ain, all too good to dismiss.
The Yoshito Yahagi-trained Lys Gracieux, second in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m) last year and third in the FWD QEII Cup (2000m) at Sha Tin in April, returned home to win the G1 Takarazuka Kinen (2200m, Hanshin) this spring by three lengths, then returned in October for a Cox Plate (G1, 2040m) win. The Arima, which marks her first time at Nakayama, is to be her last run and she’s to be partnered with Aussie Damian Lane, also racing for the first time at Nakayama.
Of the three-year-olds in the spotlight this year, odds are currently lowest on Saturnalia. The Katsuhiko Sumii-trained colt had already won a G1 at Nakayama before he claimed the Satsuki Sho this spring. That first G1 was the Hopeful Stakes for two-year-olds. Fourth in the Japanese Derby, Saturnalia finished sixth in the Tenno Sho Autumn. Christophe Soumillon is up.
World Premiere is on his third start since returning from the spring. He ran third in the G2 Kobe Shimbun Hai (2400m) before capturing the 3000m classic, the Kikuka Sho, and will be paired with three-time Arima Kinen winner Yutaka Take.
Velox is the third three-year-old in the mix. He hasn’t won a big one yet, but he posted a second and two thirds in the classics. Yuga Kawada, Japan’s current No. 2 just 11 wins behind Lemaire, is in the saddle.
Having finished last in the G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (2400m) in October, Fierement is looking to save face on his first start back home. The heavy going at Longchamp took a lot out of him, but he’s a colt with a lot to give. After claiming the Kikuka Sho last year, he went on to capture the G1 Tenno Sho Spring over 3200m at Kyoto that put him ahead of this month’s G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m) winner Glory Vase by a neck.
Kiseki fared better in the Arc with a seventh-place finish. He hasn’t made the winner’s circle since the 2017 Kikuka Sho but he has posted two seconds in top-level races this year and is a strong choice to fill out a trio, especially with ace Ryan Moore in the saddle.
Post time for the Arima Kinen, the 11th race on the Nakayama card, is 2.25pm Hong Kong time.