FUNABASHI, CHIBA PREF. – Three-year-old favorite Satono Diamond celebrated a Merry Christmas by tipping Kitasan Black at the wire to win Japan’s season-ending Arima Kinen on Sunday.
The Christophe Lemaire-ridden colt beat Japan Cup holder and spring Tenno-sho champion Kitasan Black, the leading vote-getter in the fan-chosen field of 16, by a neck to take the tape in 2 minutes, 32.6 seconds over 2,500 meters at Nakayama Racecourse in Chiba Prefecture.
Finishing third another half-length behind second-choice Kitasan Black was the race’s defending champion, Gold Actor. Satono Diamond, who won last month’s Kikka-sho, the Japanese St. Leger, in dominant fashion, took home the ¥300 million winner’s check — tied with the Japan Cup purse for the richest in Japan.
Trainer Yasutoshi Ikee captured his record fourth Arima Kinen title, Lemaire his second and his first since 2005, when he stunned unbeaten Triple Crown winner Deep Impact aboard Heart’s Cry for his first Grade 1 victory on Japanese soil.
“The Arima Kinen is a special race in Japan and I couldn’t be happier to win it with Satono Diamond, who I’ve ridden since his debut,” said Lemaire, who was in tears after the race.
“We weren’t able to win the Satsuki-sho or the Derby but I never lost faith in him. He won the Kikka-sho comfortably, and that gave me a lot of confidence for the Arima Kinen.
“He is such an easy ride. He makes my job so easy. He was a little slow to react on the last turn. But he was so strong in front of goal. He has such a big heart.”
The Satono Diamond camp said following the race that the target for the Deep Impact son in 2017 will be the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France, a prize Japanese horsemen have been dying to win but which has yet eluded them.
Frenchman Lemaire likes Satono Diamond’s chances in the Arc at 2,400 meters.
“I think the race will suit him,” said Lemaire, who has been in the saddle for all eight of Satono Diamond’s starts. “He’s intelligent, he has stamina and positions himself well so easily during a race. He has all the qualities to succeed at the Arc.”
Long-shot Maltese Apogee led the pack as expected, with Kitasan Black, under Yutaka Take, stalking him. Satono Diamond, who generally travels midfield, was closer to the front for most of the race after starting from the No. 11 stall.
“We drew a little bit wide so I had to bring him up field a little earlier than we wanted to, because it’s too tough to travel 2,500 meters all the way on the outside,” Lemaire explained.
By the final bend, Maltese Apogee’s lead had vanished as Kitasan Black and Gold Actor took over. Satono Diamond was slightly slow to quicken, but shifted into top gear down the homestretch, upsetting Take’s mount with the nod of his head as he passed the winning post.
“It’s a huge relief. I couldn’t tell who finished ahead so I was really glad it was us,” Ikee said. “He’ll be able to take it up a notch or two next season. He should really come into his own by the fall.
“He just beat the best horses in all of Japan as a 3-year-old, which is great and gives us something to look forward to next year.”
Satono Diamond, out of Malpensa, now has four graded wins with earnings of more than ¥674 million.