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Arima Kinen (The Grand Prix) Preview: A High-Profile Racing Spectacle

Justin Palace, Titleholder and Sol Oriens are among the marquee entrants for the 68th running of the Arima Kinen on Christmas Eve at Nakayama Racecourse.

Sunday, December 24 brings the Grade 1 Arima Kinen (The Grand Prix) back in the spotlight. It's the first time in six years that the Arima Kinen falls on Christmas Eve.

And with super horse Equinox retired and Liberty Island (the top 2 picks in the fan balloting) sitting the Arima Kinen out to refresh and refuel, the race has opened up possibilities, lighting the dreams for many more.

The Arima Kinen, held over 2,500 meters of turf at Nakayama Racecourse in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, features a full gate of 16. This year, its members include nine Grade 1 champions. 

As one of two races (in addition to the Takarazuka Kinen) that solicits votes from fans to choose the participants, this year's Arima Kinen is the first time in the race's 68-year history that both the top 2 picks in the fan balloting are missing from the fun.

Nonetheless, the lineup will include six of the fans' top 10 choices for the horses they most want to see run ― Justin Palace, Titleholder, Sol Oriens, Tastiera, Do Deuce and Deep Bond. The lineup will also feature three Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) champions: 2023 winner Tastiera, '22 champ Do Deuce and Shahryar, winner in 2021.

Sunday's Arima Kinen carries a total purse of ¥1.085 billion JPY ($7.5 million USD) and a winner's prize of ¥500 million JPY (nearly $3.85 million USD), matched only by the Japan Cup.

Open to 3-year-olds and up, the youngest horses in the Arima Kinen carry 56 kg, older runners 58 kg, with a 2-kg allowance for fillies and mares. Post time is 3:40 PM JST. The Arima Kinen is the 11th race on the Sunday card of 12 at Nakayama.

Here's a look at the expected top picks.

Arima Kinen
Justin Palace, seen winning the 2023 Tenno Sho (Spring) with Christophe Lemaire on April 30 at Kyoto Racecourse, is considered one of the top contenders for the Arima Kinen. (ⒸSANKEI)

Justin Palace Chasing Third Win of 2023

Justin Palace, a 4-year-old colt by Deep Impact, has had an excellent 2023 with two wins, a second and a third from his four starts. Seventh in the 2022 Arima Kinen, Justin Palace's four starts this year, three of them Grade 1s and ranging in distances from 2,000 to 3,000 meters, have set him up properly for the Arima Kinen. 

After winning the Tenno Sho (Spring) at Kyoto, Justin Palace ran third in the Takarazuka Kinen behind Equinox and Stars on Earth at Hanshin, then returned in the fall for the Tenno Sho (Autumn) at Tokyo and finished 2½ lengths behind Equinox. 

What may help is the fact that the last five Arima Kinen have favored those runners coming directly from the Tenno Sho (Autumn). All of them have either won or finished in second. 

Takeshi Yokoyama, who rode Justin Palace for the first time last out in the Tenno Sho (Autumn), is pegged to ride on Sunday.

Arima Kinen
Stars on Earth exercises at the JRA Miho Training Center on December 18 in Miho, Ibaraki Prefecture. (ⒸSANKEI)

Stars on Earth Brings Impressive Race Record into Arima Kinen

The Duramente-sired Stars on Earth is the epitome of consistency, with her record of three wins, four runner-up finishes and four third-place efforts from her 11 career starts.  She started her career competing against colts, but it wasn't until seven starts later that she went up against them again. 

After capturing two of the fillies' Classic races, Stars on Earth missed winning the Osaka Hai by a nose. On May 14, in the Victoria Mile, the 4-year-old filly placed third behind two older mares, Songline and Sodashi (both now retired). 

Although a return to competition was planned for the Tenno Sho (Autumn), Stars on Earth was forced to withdraw from the race due to a hoof issue. 

After recovering from that, she ran in the Japan Cup under William Buick and once again finished third. Now, with the top 2 finishers out of the picture and French jockey Christophe Lemaire set to be back in the irons, Stars on Earth may be ready to shine like she did in the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) in May 2022. 

Trainer Mizuki Takayanagi says he'd have Lemaire, a three-time Arima Kinen winner, ride her final fast workout. 

"I'll give her gate practice, too," Takayanagi said. "These last two starts, she has broken well, but this time it's a trickier course and I want her start to be perfect."

Arima Kinen
Through Seven Seas works out in Miho, Ibaraki Prefecture, on December 20. (ⒸSANKEI)

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Through Seven Seas Owns Three Career Wins at Nakayama Racecourse

A 5-year-old daughter of Dream Journey, Through Seven Seas returns from an admirable fourth-place finish in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on October 1 at Longchamp. Though the winner's circle has eluded her in her four Grade 1 bids to date, Through Seven Seas is in full bloom and has had a good year behind her. 

With a 2023 record of two wins and a second from her four starts, she's shown consistency. 

Without the presence of Equinox, Through Seven Seas may be able to avenge her loss by a neck to him in the Takarazuka Kinen. Kenichi Ikezoe was her partner in that race and he's set to be up in the Arima Kinen as well, a confidence booster given the fact that he's the current record holder for most wins (four) in The Grand Prix. 

Through Seven Seas has raced seven times at Nakayama, won three times and never missed the top 3 spots. 

This time, however, at her longest distance yet, trainer Tomohito Ozeki says keeping the somewhat excitable mare relaxed will be crucial. 

"On December 13, with this race in mind, I had her work for the first time over 2,500 meters," Ozeki said. "The rider asked her to pick it up after the finish line as well. She'll have to pass before the stands twice in the Arima Kinen. I think the jockey who knows her well will help there."

Arima Kinen
Arima Kinen entrant Do Deuce wins the Grade 2 Kyoto Kinen on February 2 at Kyoto Racecourse. (ⒸSANKEI)

Do Deuce Improves with Each Race, Trainer Says

The 4-year-old Heart's Cry colt Do Deuce has had only three races in 2023 after being withdrawn due to lameness a couple days before his bid at Meydan in the Dubai Turf. 

Back in Japan, he returned to the turf after eight months without a race and took on two big events at Tokyo, the Tenno Sho (Autumn) and the Japan Cup, and placed seventh and fourth, respectively, in them. Without the presence of two (Equinox and Liberty Island) of the three that beat him over the line, this time he may find himself much closer to a bigger share of the pot. 

The Arima Kinen will be half a furlong longer than anything Do Deuce has seen to date, but trainer Yasuo Tomomichi is not overly worried. 

"This will be his third start after returning and he's always been a horse that improves with each race," Tomomichi said. "Nakayama has relatively tight turns and there will be six of them, which I think he'll be able to handle. He's not bothered by the going, so I think he has a chance." 

Though Keita Tosaki had the reins in the last two outings, this time Yutaka Take, a three-time Arima Kinen winner who had ridden Do Deuce nine times before Tosaki, should be back in the saddle.

Read the rest of this article about the Arima Kinen as well as the Japanese horses in contention on JRA News.

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Author: JRA News

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