Arc hope Kitasan Black earns Irish option in Osaka
Hanshin: Osaka Hai (Grade 1) 1m2f | turf | 4yo+
Leading Japanese Arc contender Kitasan Black now has the option of a trip to Ireland later this year after overcoming a top-class field in the Osaka Hai at Hanshin on Sunday.
The five-year-old, a Classic winner at three before winning both the Tenno Sho (Spring) and Japan Cup last term, is set to join Satono Diamond in attempting to land the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, regarded as a holy grail in Japanese racing circles after several near-misses.
However, Horse Racing Ireland's decision to extend an automatic place in the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes to the winner of the Osaka Hai could also tempt Kitasan Black's connections.
The HRI last month announced the initiative in partnership with the Japan Racing Association in relation to Sunday's race, newly upgraded this year to Grade 1 level and worth a total of 232 million yen (about £1.66m).
Kitasan Black (Hisashi Shimizu/Yutaka Take) was sent off 7-5 favourite against rivals headed by last year's Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) winner Makahiki and Satono Crown, who beat Highland Reel in the Hong Kong Vase in December.
Japan's superstar jockey Yutaka Take stalked the pace, and then took over in the home straight, comfortably holding the challenge of runner-up Staphanos. Makahiki was fourth and Satono Crown sixth.
"I felt his strength had increased so I had all the confidence I needed," said the winning jockey. "The race developed just the way I thought it would. Since he was responding so well, I decided to launch an early bid today, earlier than I would do in other cases. I’m very happy that we became the first champions [of the race as a Grade 1]."