The Japanese racing season will come to a spectacular climax on December 24th when Nakayama racecourse hosts the prestigious Arima Kinen (Jpn-I) at 2,500 meters (about 12.5 furlongs) on turf.
With a purse of more than $5.3 million and a field determined in part by fan voting, the Arima Kinen is among the most eagerly-anticipated events on the Japanese racing calendar, particularly so this year since the race will mark the career finale for the fan favorite #2 Kitasan Black. Since his debut in January 2015, Kitasan Black has rarely finished out of the trifecta while scoring memorable victories in some of Japan’s biggest races, including the 2016 Japan Cup (Jpn-I).
But Kitasan Black has also suffered some frustrating defeats, including a narrow loss in the 2016 Arima Kinen and a third-place finish last time out in the Japan Cup. His loss in the latter race was perhaps forgivable since he lost a shoe and was coming off of a hard-fought win in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) (Jpn-I) over a very tiring and soft turf course, but his reputation will likely ensure that he starts at a short price, and while he’s surely the horse to beat I don’t think he’s unstoppable.
#10 Cheval Grand, who scored his first win of the year when upsetting Kitasan Black in the Japan Cup, will be back again and is another logical contender. However, I’m more intrigued by #12 Satono Crown. Although he could only finish tenth in the Japan Cup while attempting to rally from off the pace, Satono Crown had previously finished a close second to Kitasan Black in the Tenno Sho (Autumn), and his other top efforts over the last year include a win in the Takarazuka Kinen (Jpn-I)—in which Kitasan Black finished a surprising ninth—and a triumphant run in the Hong Kong Vase (HK-I), in which Satono Crown defeated the accomplished world traveler Highland Reel.
If you forgive Satono Crown’s poor showing in the Japan Cup, where he might have been compromised by a slow pace, he looks like an obvious candidate to finish in the top three. As an added bonus, Satono Crown will be ridden by Ryan Moore, arguably the most successful jockey in the world over the last few years.
#14 Suave Richard, second in the Japan Derby (Jpn-I) back in May, recently returned from a layoff to win the Republica Argentina (Jpn-II) over the same distance as the Arima Kinen. His light campaign, plus the weight break he’ll receive compared to the older runners (about 4.4 pounds) could give him an advantage in a race filled with veterans that have been racing for years.
With this in mind, my wagering strategy will be simple: I’m going to shoot for a bit of a score and play Satono Crown and Suave Richard in an exacta while adding Kitasan Black and Cheval Grend underneath. I’ll also play a smaller “saver” exacta with Kitasan Black on top.
$3 exacta: 12,14 with 2,10,12,14 ($18)
$2 exacta: 2 with 12,14 ($4)