Few races have taken as much winning in history. The Arima Kinen (of which any and all fan-voted/slot holder races are born out of) attracts Japan's elite horses, unparalleled public fanfare and more wagering money than any race in the world.
Worth 864,000,000 yen (nearly $10 million AUD), the prizemoney pales in comparison to the betting turnover. Approximately 40 billion yen ($450 million AUD) will be bet on the race, with a winner's list littered with superstars.
The likes of Kitasan Black, Orfevre, Gentildonna and Deep Impact have won in years gone by, with top mares Lys Gracieux (off the Cox Plate) and Chrono Genesis winning in 2019 and 2020 before top class colt Efforia took out last year's edition.
Over the past 11 years, the average winning rating has been a touch under 127 by Timeform's scale, the lowest being Gold Actor (124) and Gentildonna (121) who effectively equates to 125 given her mare's allowance.
There may be perhaps no generational superstars (i.e. Kitasan Black & Orfevre) in this field just yet, but I'd expect the winner to need to run to at least 125, and more likely 126-128 to win this year's edition and that benchmark makes it easier to narrow down the key chances.
Titleholder has topped that mark in two of his last three starts, his bold front-running style conducive to fast times and able to post ratings of 127 and 128 in the Tenno Sho and Takarazuka Kinen respectively.
He's since finished down the track in an Arc, but he wouldn't be the first Japanese horse to struggle in the Longchamp mud before returning to explode in the Arima Kinen (see Orfevre, 2013).
If he bounces back to his best I think he is the horse to beat. Just one other in this field has run to that absolute peak and he did win at the track and trip earlier in the year. The fans voted him on top, the market has him second pick and I think his best efforts would make him favourite so he goes on top.
Equinox is the star three-year-old in the race. I say star, despite him not actually winning a Group 1 at three. Eye catching runs in the Satsuki Sho (2000 Guineas) and Tokyo Yushun (Derby) sent him out as favourite in the Tenno Sho and he produced something special to win.
Some 20 lengths off the tearaway Panthalassa, he flew home to grab the panther on the line and post a new career peak of 126. He opted to skip the Japan Cup, focussing solely on the Arima Kinen, in which three-year-olds have a strong record. Efforia last year, Blast Onepiece, Satono Diamond, Gold Ship, Orfevre and Victoire Pisa have all won the race in the last 12 years at three. Not quite up to Efforia, who won the Tokyo Yushun before managing to rate down and win the Arima Kinen, if he manages to improve again he'll go very close.
This may not be a knock on Equinox, who has no bearing on other horses, but the form out of the Tenno Sho has been surprisingly poor. Panthalassa (2nd) and Jack D'Or (4th) failed in Hong Kong and Danon Beluga (3rd) was poor in the Japan Cup, only Shahryar managing to run a better rating since.
Still, he'll enjoy a similarly strong pace and will be very hard to hold out.
Speaking of star three-year-olds, Efforia is the dark horse in this year's edition. He could have laid a reasonable claim to title of world's best horse 12 months ago, especially over 2000-2400m, winning the Satsuki Sho, Tenno Sho and Arima Kinen in a year, falling agonisingly short in the Tokyo Yushun to Shahryar as the $1.70 favourite.
His win in the Tenno Sho over Contrail and Gran Alegria was elite, running to 128 before taking out last year's Arima Kinen, running to 126 in a comfortable win over Deep Bond and Chrono Genesis.
Interestingly, his Satsuki Sho win (which rated 125) was a 3 length touch-up of none other than Titleholder, who is the only other horse in the field to have run up to 128. Since then however, their careers have gone opposite directions.
Well beaten as a $1.50F in the Osaka Hai earlier this year, Titleholder destroyed him in the Takarazuka Kinen and niggling injuries were seemingly to blame. He's been given a long spell, it just all comes down to where he's at. Currently double figure odds, I think you have to keep him on side given he's close to the best horse in the race at his best.
Those are the three big boys and I do expect the winner to come from one of them, however there any many others with genuine hopes.
The royally bred Geraldina (Maurice x Gentildonna) will be out to emulate Mum and win an Arima Kinen, having won her first Group 1 last start in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup. That was a new peak of 118 (which equates to 122 under WFA), up from 115 the start prior so she's clearly coming into her own.
The form out of the QEII has also worked out well. Win Marilyn flew the Japanese flag in Hong Kong, winning their Vase in good style. Still, this is a huge new challenge and she'll need to improve a bigger jump again than she did last start to be winning.
I took on Vela Azul in the Japan Cup and partly due to Ryan Moore's wizardry, was proven very wrong, the former dirt battler backing up his Kyoto Daishoten win, narrowly knocking off Shahryar and running to 124 at Tokyo.
That figure likely won't be good enough to win this and the form looks a touch shaky- a bunched finish and average time unlikely to be seen here with Titleholder ensuring a strong gallop. I'm happy to risk him again.
Deep Bond at his absolute best would have something to say about the result, having run second in this race last year to Efforia, and boasting a peak figure of 126. He too comes back from France having failed in the mud but Titleholder destroyed him in both the Tenno Sho and Takarazuka Kinen.
Finally, the three-year-olds through the Kikuka Show, Boldog Hos and Justin Palace have run to 121 and 120 respectively recently. That is clearly the B-grade juvenile form for this, with the latter being towelled up by Equinox in the Tokyo Yushun and both would need to make a sharp jump while having had more starts than Equinox who is already rated 5-6 pounds higher.
While Geraldina and Vela Azul are being kept very safe by the market, I'm confident the winner comes from one of Titleholder, Equinox and Efforia. All three may have their queries but only one of them needs to run to their best to effectively deny the others.
I've got Titleholder narrowly on top- completely wipe the Arc run and he deserves to be favourite. He'll cross, lead and prove very hard to catch if left alone. Equinox is a huge danger with great upside, and Efforia is the smoky. It's a big if, but if he were to find his best he'd be vying for, if not holding favouritism. I won't be losing on him at double figures.
ARIMA KINEN 2022
Tip: #13 Titleholder
Also backing: #7 Efforia