Japan: Titleholder can secure title in world's biggest betting race

December 22nd, 2022

#13 Titleholder can secure Japan’s Horse of the Year award by taking out its equal-richest race this weekend.

Titleholder will be one of the best-supported runners in the 864 million yen (about $6.5 million) Arima Kinen (G1), the world’s biggest betting race and one of the 10 richest races in the world, staged at Nakayama over 2,500 meters (about 1 9/16 miles) in the early hours of Christmas Day ET (1:25 a.m.).

Arima Kinen Selections

  • #13 Titleholder
  • #6 Vela Azul
  • #9 Equinox
  • #16 Deep Bond

Arima Kinen Wagers

  • $10 win/$30 show: #13 Titleholder
  • $1 trifecta: 6, 13 with 6, 9, 13, 16 with 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 13, 15, 16

In a field where 10 of the 16 runners are chosen by public vote, Titleholder earned more than 368,000 of the 4.1 million votes cast following an outstanding season in Japan. Last year’s Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger) (G1) winner was successful in his only three local starts this year, taking out the Nikkei Sho (G2) Mar. 26, the Tenno Sho (Spring) (G1) May 1, and the Takarazuka Kinen (G1) Jun. 26.

In his only start since then, Titleholder went to France for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) Oct. 2, but like many Japanese horses found the going way too soft and finished 11th after leading early. The biggest question over him is how well he has recovered from that run and the trip away, but if he’s at his best he’ll be very hard to beat.

It’s an interesting field, with question marks over the form of several key contenders. Among those is last year’s winner #7 Efforia, who looked set to take on the world after three Group 1 victories as a three-year-old last season. But two starts this season produced nothing better than ninth in the Osaka Hai (G1) Apr. 3 and sixth in Titleholder’s Takarazuka Kinen. It remains to be seen whether he can return to his 2021 form after a six-month break.

The new star is #6 Vela Azul, a five-year-old who has been rejuvenated since moving from dirt to grass this year. After two wins and seven placings from his first 16 starts on dirt, his switch to turf has produced four wins and two thirds from six starts, and he graduated to the top level last start when winning the 1 1/2-mile Japan Cup (G1) Nov. 27. He benefitted from a great Ryan Moore ride, but he was clearly the best horse on the day and would have won by further with a clearer path.

Against him is that the Japan Cup-Arima Kinen double has proved extremely difficult over the years. There was a seven-year period when the double was done by T M Opera O (2000), Zenno Rob Roy (2004), and the mighty Deep Impact (2006), but none have succeeded since then. He won’t have Moore’s services either for this race, though Kohei Matsuyama has ridden him through most of his other starts this season.

In the absence of Japanese Derby (G1) winner Do Deuce, the best of the three-year-olds looks to be #9 Equinox. From the first crop of 2017 Arima Kinen hero Kitasan Black, Equinox earlier this year was second in the Japanese equivalents of both the 2000 Guineas (Satsuki Sho) G1) and Derby (Tokyo Yushun) before breaking through in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) (G1). Three-year-olds have an excellent record in this race and Equinox is a strong chance.

Equinox is not the only runner with a parent that won this race. That brigade also includes #5 Geraldina, whose dam Gentildonna took this race out in 2014. By multiple Group 1 winner Maurice, Geraldina has made great strides as a four-year-old this season, winning the about 1 3/8-mile Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1) Nov. 13. She received a form boost when the dead-heat runner-up in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, Win Marilyn, came back to beat males in the Hong Kong Vase (G1). Geraldina may need to improve further to win this but will come into favor with any rain. 

#16 Deep Bond failed in wet ground for the second year running in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Last year that failure didn’t stop him returning next start to finish runner-up in the Arima Kinen, so he has the ability to at least do that again this year, and he is a must for exotics. Also worth adding for that is the improving three-year-old #3 Boldog Hos, runner-up in the Kikuka Sho Oct. 23, and Republica Argentina (G2) winner #15 Breakup.

As impressed as I have been by Vela Azul and Equinox, I’m going to stick with Titleholder as my main selection. But it’s an open race, and trifectas are definitely worth a look.