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Adrian Webber takes a look at this weekend’s big feature at Nakayama as well as what else is happening in Japanese racing around the Christmas season.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas and the field is set for this Sunday’s celebratory G1 Arima Kinen at Nakayama, but don’t expect to see much in the way of seasonal giving from the jockeys.
This end of year Grand Prix is as tough a test as you could get and the level of competition is of such intensity that there’s no room for generosity once the gates open.
The fans have a big say in the line-up and after the votes have been counted, the race features 16 of the best horses in Japan. In fact, it could be argued that this is as good or better than any race seen anywhere this year.
Titleholder was the fans’ top pick and the horse that so dominated the spring is back on a mission after sinking in the Paris bog in the G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe this autumn. His three straight wins prior to that defeat came in his trademark run-away fashion, being particularly impressive in the G1 Spring Tenno Sho.
Efforia was all the rage last year and took Horse of the Year honours after winning both the Autumn Tenno Sho and the Arima Kinen like a champion in the making. He is on the comeback trail though: he flopped in the G1 Osaka Hai in April and last ran when sixth in this year’s other fan-voted feature, the G1 Takarazuka Kinen back in June. Trainer Yuichi Shikato believes the horse has needed this break but is ready once more to step back up to the plate and defend his title.
Taking on the two four-year-olds is the star three-year-old Equinox. He is another fan favourite after his performance in winning this autumn’s G1 Tenno Sho when Christophe Lemaire judged his run to the millisecond to overthrow Panthalassa just before the finish line. He has looked fit and sharp in his preparations.
Then there is this year’s G1 Japan Cup winner Vela Azul who is in the form of his life as he hunts for a fantastic double. Trainer Kunihiko Watanabe is quietly confident: “He ran a great race last time considering the things he had to overcome, and if he can run that sort of race again, the Nakayama course won’t pose a problem.” said the former jockey, who rode the Kikuka Sho winner Narita Top Road to fourth place in the 2002 Arima Kinen.
And don’t forget four-year-old filly Geraldina, attempting to emulate her mother Gentildonna in winning the race. The form of her Queen Elizabeth II Cup win last time looks rock solid after Win Marilyn’s recent G1 Hong Kong vase success. Throw in the likes of Boldog Hos, Deep Bond, Justin Palace and Breakup and the strength of the field is plain to see. It should be a cracker.
But, as a prelude to all of that, let’s not forget the mighty steeplechaser Oju Chosan will say goodbye to the race track when he bids for a fourth Nakayama Daishogai on Christmas Eve, his final race before retirement.
If the excitement at Nakayama is all a bit too much for you, a more relaxing option this weekend might be the G2 Hanshin Cup on Saturday, where trainer Mitsumasa Nakauchida sends out Grenadier Guards.
The four-year-old has not been seen at the races since he finished down the field in the G1 Platinum Jubilee Stakes at Ascot in June but he won this race last year, as well as the G1 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes at the track as a two-year-old.
Success would capture yet another graded race at Hanshin for Nakauchida whose Liberty Island took the G1 Juvenile Fillies there two Sundays back. It certainly is a course he seems to know all too well when it comes to grabbing the big prizes.
Two-year-old filly Liberty Island (Duramente x Yankee Rose) serves notice of her immense potential with a dominant victory in the G1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies. #リバティアイランド #阪神ジュベナイルフィリーズ pic.twitter.com/6pwVcXkgAL
— Asian Racing Report (@AsianRacingRep) December 11, 2022
Last weekend Ryota Kobayashi, 21, captured the sixth edition of the Young Jockeys Series, which was held over two days at Nagoya racecourse on Friday and Chukyo racecourse on Saturday.
The youngster won two races on the first day and followed those up with a further win on day two, recording 91 points in total, a record for any jockey participating in the series since its inception.
Given that there was a total of 63 jockeys from the NAR and the JRA when the series kicked off earlier in the year, Kobayashi would seem like a name to look out for in the future.
Other jockeys grabbing the headlines last weekend were Seina Imamura and Yuichi Fukunaga. Nineteen-year-old Imamura became just the fifth jockey in JRA history to score 50 wins in a rookie year, while soon to become trainer Fukunaga bagged a century of JRA wins for the 13th consecutive year.
At Chukyo on Sunday, visiting jockey Bauyrzhan Murzabaydv notched his first ever win in Japan and was pleased to do it for the local fans. There was another Turfy plushie presentation and the stockroom must be getting a bit low by now. Ryusei Sakai also deserves credit for his ride on Dolce More in Sunday’s G1 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes, having displayed more fine riding skills to earn his second JRA Group 1 victory.
It’s easy to forget jockeys sidelined by injury, but one man who refuses to give up is Shigefumi Kumazawa, born in 1968, who got his JRA license in 1986 and has clocked up a career spanning 37 years. Riding in both flat and steeplechase races, the jockey won the G1 Arima Kinen in 1991 on Dai Yusaku.
But last February he fell from Ridge Man in the Shunrei Jump Stakes at Kokura, and the horrific fall fractured his second cervical vertebrae (C2). He then spent three months in hospital and doctors told him he probably wouldn’t ride again.
Kumazawa, however, is not one to not get up again after a knockdown, however heavy, but is rather a fighter with the qualities of many jockeys who risk their lives every day to pursue their passion.
Through a lot of hard work with his rehabilitation, he now has the doctor’s consent to once again return to race riding and has made himself available for rides.
“It feels like my debut is coming around again and I want to build things up once more from now,” said the tough nut from Aichi Prefecture, based at Ritto.
So, whichever jockey rides to glory in the G1 Arima Kinen on Sunday, it’s well worth remembering the 1991 winner of the race and his fighting comeback from what could have been a catastrophic injury.
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