Arima Kinen 2012 Preview

With Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and Japan Cup runner up Orfevre not taking to the field this weekend in Nakayama, the 57th Arima Kinen will be lacking a little in ‘big names’ especially if you take into account that Fillies Triple Crown winner, and Japan Cup victor Gentildonna doesn’t make the line up either.

However the Arima Kinen is “The Grand Prix” in Japan, and is the season finale for the Japan Racing Association which has arguably the highest turnover of any race in the world alongside the Grand National at Aintree in April. Despite the lack of Orfevre and Gentildonna, the Arima Kinen has still managed to attract a stellar group of horses including high-class three year olds Rulership and Gold Ship.

The race was originally known as the Nakayama Grand Prix, founded in 1956 by then president Yoriyasu Arima. The inaugural running of the race was held over about thirteen furlongs and was renamed the following year to the Arima Kinen after founder Yoriyasu Arima died in January. The race has been held at its current distance of 12.5 furlongs since 1966, and began accepting foreign-bred entries from 1971. In 2007 the Arima Kinen received International Grade 1 status which opened the door to a maximum of six horses of overseas to run in this prestigious race.

The record for the race was set by Zenno Rob Roy in 2004, running the distance in 2 minutes 29.5 seconds.

 BEAT BLACK – Winner of the Tenno Sho (Spring) back in April, the five-year-old son of Miscat has failed to trouble the judge in his three most recent starts, culminating with a seventh place finish in the Japan Cup on his most recent start. Usually hard on the pace, the shorter home straight at Nakayama will work to his advantage unlike Tokyo and should come into this race in top order after two recent runs a month ago.

 DAIWA FALCON – Usually thereabouts on the front-end, Daiwa Falcon comes into this off the back of victory in the Grade 3 Fukushima Kinen in the middle of November. The five-year-old son of Jungle Pocket has won 5 races from 13 tries around the Nakayama circuit and always come to form around this time of year. It’ll take a career best from the Hiroyuki Uehara trained entire and based on his run in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) he is likely to struggle in this grade.

 DARK SHADOW – The five-year-old son of Dance In The Dark comes into this race in search of his first Grade 1 success after backing up with two impressive performances in both the Tenno Sho (Autumn) and Japan Cup finishing fourth in both races, just 0.4sec off the pace. The Noriyuki Hori trained entire has a bit of a reputation for being a Tokyo specialist and the longer straight obviously plays to his strengths so it has to be a bit of a worry coming to Nakayama with his only previous run here yielding an unplaced effort.

 EARNESTLY – The Shozo Sasaki trained seven-year-old comes into this Grade 1 completely out of form, with two recent heavy defeats in both the Kinko Sho (G2) and Tenno Sho (Autumn, G1) and realistically doesn’t have much chance against quality opposition here.

 EISHIN FLASH – Winner of the 2010 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) returned to winning ways in October to lift the Tenno Sho Autumn (G1) in what would be his first victory since landing the Tokyo Yushun two years ago, blasting through the final three furlongs in 33.1 under talented big race jockey Mirco Demuro. Second in this race last year to Orfevre, Eishin Flash is a free going sort so will need all the strength of Mirco Demuro to settle him in the early stages of what could be a tactical affair but he seems to have hit form lately and looks to be a major player this year without the likes of Orfevre of Gentildonna in the line-up.

 GOLD SHIP – Winner of the Kikuko Sho (Japan St Leger) in 3 minutes 2.9sec back in October, this impressive son of Stay Gold also has the Satsuki Sho (Japan Guineas) on his resume having won that back in April. The only blot on his copybook coming when beaten on the middle leg of the Japanese Triple Crown in the Tokyo Yushun, but he was unlucky that day and is clearly the best of the three-year-olds based on what I’ve seen. This is an impressive colt and his only previous run at Nakayama yielded an impressive success in the Satsuki Sho (Grade 1), and given that he will be staying the distance strong he looks the one they all have to beat.

 LELOUCH – A four-year-old son of 2004 Arima Kinen winner Zenno Rob Roy, Lelouch recorded a first graded success in the Copa Republica Argentina (Grade 2) on his most recent start. A late maturing start who only has eleven starts to his name he comes into this race in the form of his life, and could pick up the pieces in the place market if one or two of the main protagonists fail to run to form, but looks very much a horse for next year to me with another winter to strengthen up.

 NAKAYAMA KNIGHT – A very attractive chestnut son of Stay Gold, this four-year-old has a big liking for this Nakayama circuit winning three and placing twice from just five attempts. Ninth in the Tenno Sho Autumn (Grade 1) he had previous returned to Nakayama in style to record a ready success  in the Sankei Sho (Grade 2) over eleven furlongs. His failure to Tokyo can be excused though and the return to this trip will certainly help this deep-closing sort – place chances.

 NEVER BOUCHON – The veteran of the race at the grand old age of 9, he comes here off a fifth placed effort in the Nippon Sho (Grade 2) last time out. He isn’t getting any younger though and has been well beaten off in decent races this season and it is seriously hard to imagine him laying a glove on the main contenders here.

 OCEAN BLUE – Comes into this race after winning the Kinko Sho (Grade 2) at Chukyo on his most recent start, he seems to win every other start looking through his most recent form. That said it is hard to imagine him being good enough against some of the better quality of rivals here and looks another just making up the numbers.

 OKEN BRUCE LEE – Hasn’t got the best record at either this distance or around the track, and isn’t getting any younger either at the age of seven. He comes here off a tepid display in the Japan Cup and in all seriousness I couldn’t envisage him playing a hand in the finish here.

 ROSE KINGDOM – A very good three-year-old this now 5yo son of King Kamehameha has appeared to lose his way over the last two years and will need to rediscover that 3yo form to feature here. Well beaten in this contest last year I can see him plugging on into mid-division but that looks about it really after a disappointing display in the Japan Cup latest.

 RULERSHIP – A top class operator at around this level, but although he landed the QEII Cup in Hong Kong back in April, the 5yo has yet to win a Grade 1 on home soil. With both Orfevre and Gentildonna out of the way this could be the time for Rulership to shine, with placed efforts in all three of the main races on lead up Takarazuka Kinen, Tenno Sho Autumn and Japan Cup. The son of King Kamehameha has shown a tendency to be slow to break from the gates in his races and this has ultimately proved his undoing this campaign. However trained Katsuhiko Sumii has a plan in place to combat this problems judging by reports I’ve read, and he gets the assistance of Aussie Craig Williams in the plate – live contender.

 SKY DIGNITY – A good late-finishing second to Gold Ship in the Kikuka Sho on his most recent start, this three-year-old looks the type who could improve further next year. A winner of a maiden and allowance race from just 9 starts this could be a step too soon for the son of Brian’s Time but I can imagine him staying on through beaten horses late.

 TO THE GLORY – A fair four-year-old last year who finished third in this race last year with a big late closing effort. He has disappointed on majority of his starts this campaign but that has probably been over trips short of ideal. Also placed in this race in 2010, he has shown a clear liking for this track and distance and although it would be hard to see him having the class to take this, would be my idea of one of the big outsiders getting into the frame at a price.

 TRAILBLAZER – Winner of the Kyoto Kinen before a stint in the United States which yielded a fourth-placed finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, this five-year-old son of Zenno Rob Roy is a winner of his sole attempt around the Nakayama circuit although in general his form isn’t quite good enough to secure victory here.

COMMENTS FROM CONNECTIONS:

Beat Black (5yo, horse)

Hitoshi Nakamura
“I thought he’d run it in 56 seconds, but he did it in 54. I think he’s in very good form. Before he won the Tenno Sho (Spring), he worked a lot faster than we expected him to. We’ll have to see about where we travel but we do want to be out in front fairly early.” 

Kodai Hasegawa (assistant trainer)
“He was in pretty good shape (for the Japan Cup) but he’s just as good as he was then. I get the impression he has an easier time racing at Nakayama than Tokyo. Now all we need is for the turf to hold up.”

Daiwa Falcon (5yo, horse)

Hiroyuki Uehara (trainer)
“Everything’s been like clockwork. He’s done all the training we planned for him. He always picks it up at this time of the year and judging by his last performance (first, Fukushima Kinen) I’d say he’s in excellent condition at the moment. He should have no problem with the distance so we’ve got a lot to look forward to here.”

Dark Shadow (5yo, horse)

Ryan Moore
“Judging by what I saw in the workout and looking at his fur today, he seems like he’s in pretty good condition. I could tell right away that he’s got a lot of quality, that he’s a very good horse. He just went through the motions today but I’m really pleased with where he’s at. I think he should be able to run clockwise just fine, on a tight track, too. You never know how a race will turn out but I’m in this to win it. Hopefully I can deliver a Christmas gift to all the fans.” 

Noriyuki Hori (trainer)
“For his last two starts, we worked him hard on a Wednesday, trying to get his weight down. But this time he was ready to go last week which is why he put in his work today. The big concern for us last time (in the Japan Cup) was the distance but we know now he can handle it. He traveled at the back and we had to make our move early but he was still accelerating on the straight. We got a lot out of his last race.”

Earnestly (7yo, horse)

Shozo Sasaki (trainer)
“Considering what the track was like today, he gets passing marks from me for the way he finished the workout. His movement offers more hope than disappointment. You can never say never…”

Eishin Flash (5yo, horse)

Mirco Demuro
“He was focused yet relaxed. I think he was very good today. When I won the Arima Kinen two years ago (with Victoire Pisa), I won the Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes (with Grand Prix Boss) the week before. I hope I can do the same with Flash this time, too.” 

Hideaki Fujiwara (trainer)
“He was very impressive. I think it’s safe to say he’s ready. This will be his fourth start of the fall so I am keeping an eye out to make sure he doesn’t suffer from exhaustion. But he’s a tough horse who always responds when you ask for it. He knows how to work himself into top form and sustain it once he’s there. (Christophe) Lemaire does a wonderful job of riding him, but I just think the horse hits it off slightly better with Demuro. He made his comeback in the Tenno Sho (Autumn), and I hope he can win this one now after he came so close last year.”

Gold Ship (3yo, colt)

Hiroyuki Uchida
“He got a lot stronger over the summer. He’s more sure of himself now and knows what he’s doing during a race. He can take the race to the opposition while remaining in control. You have to be a good racehorse to be able to do both. We could’ve positioned ourselves closer to the front (in the Kikuka Sho) but the horse didn’t exactly jump out of the gate; maybe he knew we were in for a long one so I just decided to sit back until the time was right. But to produce the performance he did takes not only talent but toughness. There’s no telling how the race will unfold but I want to make sure he leaves every bit of horse out there. This race will tell a lot, whether he can be one of the best racehorses in the country or not. There’s a lot on us here. I’ve been told by the trainer that he’s stronger than ever before which almost worries me because I’m not sure if I can control him if he does become too strong. I was watching the race on TV a year ago so to be back riding in the Arima Kinen with such a special horse is just an unbelievable feeling. I’ll ride Gold Ship with confidence and there’s not much more I can do than that. A bunch of 3-year-olds have won the Arima Kinen before and even when they lost, I remember them having pretty good races. I don’t see much of a gap between the older horses – if at all. I hope I can bring some hope and excitement to all the racing fans.” 

Naosuke Sugai (trainer)
“We wanted to get his lungs going today and crack the whip a little bit, to remind him we’ve got a big race coming up. I think on the day of the race, he’ll be 10 kg bigger than he was for his last race – 10 kg of muscle, too – and that’s the way we wanted it because we asked the farm to add around 20 kg to his frame. He’s built up, really broad across the chest and you’ll notice it. You need power at Nakayama unlike a marathon in the Kikuka Sho. We’re leaving everything in Uchida’s hands now. We’re going up against the big boys but I want him to ride with the utmost confidence. We’re challengers here.”

Lelouch (4yo, colt)

Norihiro Yokoyama
“His time wasn’t especially fast but he’s coming along fine. I’m just glad he’s managed to get this far without any issues. With him, it was never a case of filling out but staying injury free. I thought he had something special from the moment I rode him in his debut. He’s just a very easy ride. The competition will get tougher here, but he doesn’t take a backseat in terms of potential.” 

Kazuo Fujisawa (trainer)
“He has the pace to race near the front and the stamina to leg it out. We’re going up against horses who run regularly at Grade 1. It’ll be interesting and anxious to see how he does here. His whole future is still ahead of him next season.”

Nakayama Knight (4yo, colt)

Yoshitomi Shibata
“His breathing has improved even from a week ago. I was careful not to overwork him but at the same time, you want to make sure he puts in the necessary work because it is a huge race. 

Yoshitaka Ninomiya (trainer)
“The jockey himself worked the horse last week and we went at it pretty hard, but he wanted to work him again this week so we obliged. There’s nothing wrong with him; all systems are a go. He doesn’t struggle running counterclockwise but he does seem to get his legs better underneath him running the other way around. He’s won at Tokyo, but his wins at Nakayama are probably more impressive. I think he’ll be even better next year but I’m pretty happy with his progress at this point in time. He continues to mature physically, and I’m really excited to see how he does against the best horses in the country. It’s not too often that you get to race a horse in the Arima Kinen in the shape he’s in right now.”

Never Bouchon (9yo, horse)

Masanori Ito (trainer)
“He’s got a lot of motivation for a horse his age. He doesn’t seem to be tired, and he’s in good shape. Not bad for an old-timer. He’s starting to show the form of his peak years. He suffered a broken bone at a relatively old age and that was really stressful for him. But he’s back, finally. No one can predict how a race will turn out. I mean, a 10-year-old won the Stayers Stakes. I hope he has his moment and gets the fans involved. I’m really happy with the inside draw; we’ve got less of a distance to cover.”

Ocean Blue (4yo, colt)

Christophe Lemaire
“He’s in extremely good condition, very relaxed as well.” 

Yasutoshi Ikee (trainer)
“He looked good. He’s just as fit as he was for his last race. He’s relaxed and I was happy with the way he responded. Hopefully, we can stay on the tail of the pacesetter and travel along the rail.”

Oken Bruce Lee (7yo, horse)

Hidetaka Otonashi (trainer)
“He looked good to me. He’s not in bad shape by his standards.”

Rose Kingdom (5yo, horse)

Yasunari Iwata
“He was running in a straight line down the last furlong. He didn’t show any signs of losing his handle. I hope I can get the most out of my horse.” 

Kojiro Hashiguchi (trainer)
“I was hoping for an inside draw and we got what we wanted. I hope he leaves from the No. 1 post and ends up No. 1. Leaving from this gate, he should be able to save himself for when it matters most. It’s definitely not a disadvantage.”

Rulership (5yo, horse)

Craig Williams
“He’s improved from last week. He seems motivated, and is responding much better. His form dipped a little after the Japan Cup but he’s on the way back up now. A good trainer knows how to prepare a horse in best condition for the race. Mr. Sumii knows what he’s doing; the horse has been perfect this week. I know how much the fans love him. He’s definitely among the favorites and would love to help him win a Grade 1 race in Japan. The crowd is massive at the Arima Kinen and I really hope we can win.” 

Katsuhiko Sumii (trainer)
“He worked among a party of three but he settled fine and was moving really, really well out there. Physically, I’d say he’s the same as he was for his last race – if not a little sharper. Again, he’s going into another race in really good form. We were worried about how he might hold up inside the gate in the Japan Cup and things didn’t turn out well. Since then, we’ve been trying a number of things to make sure he starts properly. We’re still not sure if he’ll be wearing any kind of equipment for the race. I think the only thing standing in our way is the start of the race. I pray we draw an even number. We’ve been doing everything we can for him, especially so that he breaks properly. I hope we can have a good Christmas.”

Sky Dignity (3yo, colt)

Christophe Soumillon
“He was relaxed and he responded really well. It’s tough to compare how he is in real life to the horse I’ve been watching on film, but he is an easy ride for sure.” 

Yasuo Tomomichi (trainer)
“We were thinking about racing him in either the Stayers Stakes or the American Jockey Club Cup after the new year so the farm had been prepared. He’s in good condition and after Orfevre pulled out, we decided to give him a shot. I think his footwork has improved since the Kikuka Sho, and there’s no wear and tear on his body. He doesn’t have a huge stride so a tight course like Nakayama should work to his favor.” 

Yusuke Oe (assistant trainer)
“An inside barrier is definitely better than outside. The weather nor the turf conditions will be an issue for him. He’s such a diligent racehorse. He used to be physically weak and couldn’t keep up in the workouts but that’s no longer the case. He’s always had the quality but he’s added toughness to it now. He’s gotten really, really strong. Given the quality of the field we’re going up against, we can’t sit here and brag about our chances. But he does have lots of stamina and has never had an issue settling, which bodes well for this race. We’re looking forward to it.”

To the Glory (5yo, horse)

Yasutoshi Ikee (trainer)
“It’s only been two weeks since his last start so we took it easy on him. I think the workout he had today was just fine. I didn’t see the immediate effect of the cheek pieces in training but I certainly don’t think it will take away from him. I hope he remembers the way he ran the race last year.”

Trailblazer (5yo, horse)

Yutaka Take
“He was in really good condition for the Breeders’ Cup Turf. I was surprised how good he was during the workouts. He came around that next to last turn so smoothly and that’s usually the way he wins races. I was betting on it. He didn’t back down against the world’s best racehorses, and I’m happy we were able to show what he’s made of. I hope we can go back next year – but as a Grade 1 winner. Even when he was an assistant trainer, Yasutoshi and I used to always talk about American racing because he spent time over there learning the trade. I think the distance and the layout of the Arima Kinen suit him because he’s a pretty crafty horse. It’s probably better if he travels toward the front but not on the lead. He can get a bad jump out of the gate from time to time so I want to make sure he gets off to a smooth start. It was never a concern in the States because we always had someone at the gate. The only thing that worries me is his physical condition because he spent a long time in America to come back for this. But he did finish fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf so as long as he’s in halfway decent shape, we should have a chance here. I’ve only won the Arima Kinen twice, aboard Oguri Cap and Deep Impact. It would be nice to win the Arima Kinen because it’s been a while.” 

Yasutoshi Ikee (trainer)
“His action wasn’t very good, even taking into account how bad the course was today. The horse has a history of nose bleeds when he trains too hard so we’ll just have to see what kind of an effect this workout will have on him. He hasn’t shown any signs of fatigue. We worked him to the limit (for the Breeders’ Cup Turf) and we’ve got to admit he’s not close to being in that form right now.”

VERDICT
In years gone by the Japan Cup has proven to be a poor form guide to use in the Arima Kinen with a win ratio of just 8.8%, and place of 17.6% it has often paid to look elsewhere. Rulership comes into this off the back of three decent placed efforts in top races this campaign but his bid depends on his start and taking that into account I couldn’t possibly advise him here.

Of 10 winners in the last 10 years all (apart from Dream Journey in 2009, 5yo) have been aged four or younger, and it generally pays to side with quality with those having already won a Japanese Grade 1 in the same year doing well. If you extend that to having won a JRA G1 over 12 furlongs or less, you are talking about a 40% top two finish ratio, which augurs well for GOLD SHIP who comes into this race with all the form in the book to add to his impressive campaign here, and take the season finale for connections.

[notification_box]2pts win Gold Ship @ SP [/notification_box]

 

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