Michael Cox



The Arc of the east: Arima Kinen looms as race of 2022

Japan’s racing media is abuzz ahead of a Christmas Day clash in which form lines converge for a classic edition of the country’s biggest race.

If you walked through the sliding doors of a Tokyo convenience store this week you got a reminder it is Christmas, but not because of any mistletoe or decorations.

Japan do December 25 a little differently: on Sunday Nakayama hosts what is fast becoming the best race in the world. 

Rather than cellophane or baubles, the newsstand next to the entrance is stacked with sports magazines and broadsheet newspapers, all obsessively dissecting Sunday’s race, one worth more than US$7.5 million and watched by a sell-out crowd (this year reduced to just under 50,000 due to ongoing Covid restrictions). It is the championship contest in the sport’s most competitive jurisdiction. 

The cover of Gallop magazine frames it as a race in three – the mighty Takarazuka Kinen winner Titleholder is centre of page, between the three-year-old Tenno Sho victor Equinox and last year’s Arima Kinen hero Efforia – but the fan-voted field for the betting extravaganza runs deeper than that trio and boasts top-end quality that will drive turnover of more than US$350m. 


Tokyo newsstands are festooned with Arima Kinen-related material. (Photo by Asian Racing Report)

“It is like our Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe,” said Frenchman Christophe Lemaire, who rides Equinox.

“You get the three-year-olds competing against each other and the best horses. It is a 2500m race so you need a tough horse with stamina to win. It is a hard race to steal, all of the winners of the Arima are considered champions. I can’t think of a horse that won the race who was not considered a top horse.” 

Weekly magazine Keiba Book gave Titleholder solo top billing. He has drawn a wide barrier but betting will focus on the four-year-old and the media spotlight has shone brightly on him this week. Rightly so, according to Lemaire, who said the four-year-old’s uncompromising mix of tactical speed and stamina make him a formidable rival at Nakayama. 

“Titleholder loves this track and I think it is because his style suits it,” Lemaire said. “It is a short straight, so he can use his stamina very well but also his speed at the start. It is very hard to catch him on that kind of track, like he did at Hanshin in the Takarazuka and like he has done on ‘inner’ tracks previously, he will be difficult to beat if he is in his best condition like he was before the Arc.” 

Fearsome frontrunner Titleholder, top of the fan vote, is dominating Arima Kinen coverage in Tokyo. (Photo by Asian Racing Report)

Titleholder romps home in the G1 Tenno Sho Spring. (Photo by JRA)

Lemaire’s mount has grabbed some media attention of his own this week. Runner-up in two classics back in the spring, the Satsuki Sho and Tokyo Yushun, the colt with the distinctive blaze produced a legendary stretch run to nail runaway leader Panthalassa in the Tenno Sho and has since pleased in his work. 

On Wednesday the daily broadsheet Tokyo Sports covered its backpage with a photo of Equinox churning through the woodchip flat at Ritto, a workout that was as aggressive as it was unconventional, even by Japanese standards. 

Breezing up for a track rider with older open class gallopers either side of him, the inside horse applying serious pressure under the whip, Equinox held himself together like a seasoned pro: The Tokyo Sports front page highlighted the final 200m split, 11.4s. 


“It was good work, he was on the bridle and didn’t leave his heart on the track,” Lemaire said of the intense hitout.

“The trainer (Tetsuya Kimura) was pleased with it, and I was happy after I rode him in work last week. The performance in the Tenno Sho was beautiful and I think his condition has improved from that race.

“All the lights are green, and we expect him to run a very good race.” 

Lemaire’s main concern for his horse was freshness, not fitness, and like many other runners, race planning has him primed for this. 

“He didn’t run the Japan Cup because this was the target, so he will still have the freshness I think,” he said. “If he has to dig deep in the last few furlongs in the Arima, I think he will be able to find it, he needs to have that freshness for the end of the year. Everything has been done to bring the horse to his top for this.” 

The Japan Cup winner Vela Azul is backing up but the tendency is for the big guns – like Queen Elizabeth II Cup winner Geraldina – to target this race, and others like tough Kikuka Sho placegetters Boldog Hos and Justin Palace have also been set for this. 

“The owners give a lot of importance to the Arima Kinen so that is why they preferred to avoid the Japan Cup and run in this race,” Lemaire said. “They prefer not to run there than to risk a bad performance here, so it shows how important this race is.” 



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