Final nominations for the Grade 1 Arima Kinen (The Grand Prix) number 17 for the full gate of 16. The year-end tradition, arguably Japan's most beloved and one that carries a winner's prize of JPY300 million (over USD2.8 million), falls this year on the day after Christmas and will be followed by the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes two days later. Ages range from 3 to 7, with a very strong representation by 3-year-olds. Five fillies and mares are also in the mix.
Despite the many popular horses that traveled to Hong Kong for the International Races earlier this month, the fans will not be disappointed with this year's Arima Kinen lineup, which includes six Grade 1 winners and the top three ballot winners - Efforia, Chrono Genesis, and Titleholder. All three fan favorites won upwards of 200,000 votes each and Efforia's 260,742 votes set a new record, topping Chrono Genesis's record from last year by 46,000 votes. This year, Chrono Genesis received a personal best of 240,165 votes.
The Arima Kinen was begun in 1956 as the brainchild of Yoriyasu Arima, the Japan Racing association's second president. Arima wanted a race to rival the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) and the event began as the Nakayama Grand Prix. At the time, it was the only race to solicit fans' votes for the horses they most wanted to see run. Arima got to see his race's inaugural run on Dec. 23, 1956, but fell ill and passed away less than three weeks later. The race name was changed in memoriam later that year.
The Arima Kinen, shortened half a furlong from 1966, is currently run over 2,500 meters on turf. The race record, set by Zenno Rob Roy in 2004, stands at 2 minutes, 29.5 seconds. The race has been staged from its beginning every year at Nakayama.
Run over the Nakayama inner course, the Arima Kinen starts at the far bend on part of the outer course, passes before the grandstand and circles again. A slope in the homestretch begins 200 meters before the finish line and rises two meters in less than 150 meters.
The Arima Kinen will be the 11th race on Sunday, Dec. 26 at Nakayama and its post time is 15:25 local time. It is open to 3-year-olds and up and horses carry 57kg, with a 2-kg allowance given to mares and 3-year-old colts.
The expected top picks are:
Chrono Genesis : The Arima Kinen will be the final race for the 5-year-old daughter of Bago. Looking to secure her fifth Grade 1 victory, Chrono Genesis returns directly from her seventh-place run in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, where the gray encountered ground like none she'd known before and her forward position made for even a harder race. Following her win of last year's Arima Kinen, Chrono Genesis started the year off with a second in the Dubai Sheema Classic, and next up back home captured her second successive win of the Takarazuka Kinen, both Grade 1 events. Jockey Christophe Lemaire took the reins in the Takarazuka Kinen after regular rider Yuichi Kitamura was seriously injured in a fall in May, and Lemaire is expected to be up on Sunday.
Efforia : The Epiphaneia-sired Efforia, this year's Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) and Tenno Sho (Autumn) winner, has made dreams come true for jockey Takeshi Yokoyama, whose 100 wins this year have brought him to No. 5 in the jockey standings in only his fourth-year riding. Efforia returns from his Oct. 31 Tenno Sho run and the course is familiar from the Satsuki Sho, and only 100 meters longer than Efforia's longest trip so far. Last week, the bay colt breezed under the jockey in a trio on the woodchip course over six furlongs for a time of 84.1 seconds, 11.8 seconds over the final furlong. Trainer Yuichi Shikato expressed his satisfaction with the work. "It was fine for a week out. He'll get two more workouts before the race. He came back from the farm looking happy and healthy and training has gone well."
Titleholder : The Duramante colt Titleholder was 2-6-1 in the Classic races, with a win of the Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger) by five lengths. He is experienced at Nakayama with a record of 1-4-1-2-13, and the last of those (the Asahi Hai St. Lite Kinen) saw him stuck helplessly in traffic and was not representative. Though jockey Takeshi Yokoyama rode the Kikuka Sho, this time his older brother Kazuo Yokoyama is expected to be partnered with the colt for the first time. Like, Efforia and Chrono Genesis, Titleholder will also be racing under only 55 kg. It should be noted that over the last 10 runnings of the Arima Kinen, four winners have come straight from the Kikuka Sho. Three had won the classic and one had finished fourth.
Stella Veloce : Fourth-place finisher in the Kikuka Sho this year was Stella Veloce, also by Bago, the name translates from the Italian as "fast star" and he was 3-3-4 in the Classics, as well as second in the 2-year-old Grade 1 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes last year. Stella Veloce also pocketed the Grade 2 Kobe Shimbun Hai at Chukyo, before heading into the Kikuka Sho. He's good over any ground and versatile in his running style. The Arima Kinen ride, however, is not going to Hayato Yoshida, who rode the colt's last four starts, but most likely to new partner jockey Mirco Demuro, who captured the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies two weeks ago, his second Grade 1 win of the year.
Akai Ito : Akai Ito, a 4-year-old filly by Kizuna, won her first Grade 1 on her first bid last out in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Hanshin. And she did it as the race 10th pick. Helping her win was jockey Hideaki Miyuki, who is to have the ride Sunday as well, looking for the first Arima Kinen victory of his 27-year career. Akai Ito has only competed in two other graded-stakes races, also filles and mares only, and finished seventh in both. Not only will it be her first graded race against males, it will be her first time over a distance longer than 2,200 meters. She does have previous experience at Nakayama though with a 4-5 over 1,800 and 2,000 meters, respectively.
Deep Bond : Another progeny of Kizuna, Deep Bond raced in the 2020 Classics alongside Contrail for a score of 10-5-4. Like Chrono Genesis, the colt returns from the Arc, and he too, even more than the mare, was done in by the ground and finished last. Just a little over two weeks before that, he had captured the Grade 2 Prix Foy at the same venue, Longchamp. Being one of the best stayers in the generation, the more distance seems better for him and he may even find the 2,500 meters a bit short. He was fourth from last in the Grade 3 Nakayama Kimpai (2,000 meters), aced the Grade 2 Hanshin Daishoten (3,000 meters), followed by a second in the Grade 1 Tenno Sho (Spring) (3,200 meters) before leaving for Europe.
Kiseki : Deserving mention is veteran Kiseki, who'll be capping a career of 33 outings that includes four bids overseas. It has been four years since his win of the 2017 Kikuka Sho, his only Grade 1 victory and the last time he made the winner's circle. Though Kiseki has only notched four wins in his career, he has made the top three 16 times. This will be his fourth Arima Kinen and his previous 5-5-12 results aren't promising, but his rotation heading in is his least arduous yet. His sire Rulership posted 6-4-3 in his three Arima Kinen runs.
Others of interest include:
Also by Epiphaneia, Aristoteles finished only a neck behind Contrail in the Kikuka Sho last year. Being sent to the front last out in the Japan Cup, he finished in ninth place. Preceding that, however, he showed a more relaxed run and finished second in the Grade 2 Kyoto Daishoten. Though this will be only his second run at Nakayama, he scooped the Grade 2 American Jockey Club Cup in January and the venue looks to suit him.
The 5-year-old Heart's Cry mare Shadow Diva won the Grade 2 Ireland Trophy Fuchu Himba Stakes before scoring a seventh-place finish in the Japan Cup. This time will be her first time over anything longer than 2,400 meters, and she has posted 4-1-5 from three previous Nakayama runs, all over 1,800 meters.
Also, we can't overlook trainer Yoshito Yahagi's colt Panthalassa, as he's on a two-race winning streak, a wire-to-wire victory in the October Stakes followed by a four-length win of the Grade 3 Fukushima Kinen.