A Golden Slipper win on Kiamichi meant Damian Lane would have considered 2019 a breakout year before he ventured to Japan for a career and life-changing stint in April.
On his second day in Japan Lane rode four winners, he landed a G1 on Normcore two weeks later and then finally the G1 Takarazuka Kinen aboard Lys Gracieux in June.
Lane finished the two month stay with remarkable statistics of 37 wins from 132 rides at a strike rate of more than 30 per cent, still the best return of any visiting jockey this year.
The mind-blowing stint delivered him even more glory back in Australia during the spring carnival, with Lane combining with Japanese raider Mer De Glace to take the G1 Caulfield Cup and then reuniting with Lys Gracieux for a dominant G1 Cox Plate victory.
Given that success, it isn’t surprising that Yahagi won’t be giving any instructions to Lane before he heads out onto the notoriously tricky Nakayama course, a track Lys Gracieux has never raced on.
“I’ve left the race to the jockey, I did tell him about the course’s peculiarities but didn’t give him any special instructions” Yahagi said after Lys Gracueux drew barrier six, adding that his mare’s improved temperament had him feeling confident heading into the race. “She’s an independent horse and always gives it her all. She has come out of all her races well. She’s tough. This year she has matured and her on-and-off switches are more distinct. Before the Cox Plate, she’d been sleeping, which had me worried. But she goes to the gate and performs. I’m not concerned at all about it being her first time at Nakayama.”
The G1 Arima Kinen is a first for Yahagi as well but said the race – which a fan vote decides the final field – isn’t about individual glory.
“It’s not just about entering a horse here. It’s about the fans as well and having a horse they want to see run,” he said. “I’d thought about taking on the Arima Kinen after she won the Cox Plate. She was ridden while at the jockey school for quarantine too and we calculated back from the Arima Kinen and got her ready. The usual pattern is to work her hard a week out from a race and then just work her alone the week of the race. But she looked a bit heavy so I decided last week that she’d work in tandem this week. After all, it is the Arima Kinen.”
Race favourite will be superstar Almond Eye but the 2,500m event features some serious contenders including big-striding colt Saturnalia and recent G1 Japan Cup winner Suave Richard.
The world's biggest betting race is on tomorrow.
Current odds for the Arima Kinen on the JRA Tote
The money for ALMOND EYE 1.6 has been large and relentless, ahead of :
— it's on (@LongBallToNoOne) December 21, 2019