Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Japan’s record in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe

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John Ingles highlights the record of Japanese runners in the Arc, including some high-profile near-misses.

Where it all began

Japan’s four challengers for this year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Titleholder, Do Deuce, Stay Foolish and Deep Bond, are the latest runners from the Far East to attempt to win a contest which continues to be the most coveted overseas prize for Japanese horses.

It’s a quest which has been ongoing for more than 50 years now and, while there have been some near misses over the years, after 100 runnings the Arc has yet to be won by a horse trained outside Europe.

The first to try from Japan was six-year-old Speed Symboli in 1969. He already had some globe-trotting experience, having finished fifth in the Washington D.C. International two years earlier as well as in the King George in a European campaign building towards his Arc bid. However, little was expected of him at Longchamp where he started at 99/1 and he duly finished down the field in a race won by Levmoss.

It was to be another 30 years before a serious Arc contender emerged from Japan, El Condor Pasa not only going close himself but paving the way for the more regular challenges we’ve seen from the Far East over the last 20 years or so.

By 1999, Japan had enjoyed some ground-breaking success in Europe, with Group 1 wins at Deauville from Seeking The Pearl and Taiki Shuttle the previous summer, while Agnes World’s win under Yutaka Take in the Prix de l’Abbaye gave the 2000 Japanese fans present at Longchamp something to cheer about just before El Condor Pasa started second favourite behind Montjeu in the Arc.

Already a Japan Cup winner at home, four-year-old El Condor Pasa had a successful French campaign before the Arc, winning the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud impressively and following up in his trial, the Prix Foy. Despite heavy ground for Arc day, El Condor Pasa set a scorching gallop which proved too much for all bar Montjeu who caught El Condor Pasa only in the final 50 yards.

Battling back bravely when challenged, El Condor Pasa went down by half a length and pulled six lengths clear of the third, putting up a performance (a Timeform rating of 136) which would have been good enough to win most Arcs.

It was five years before Japan sent its next Arc challenger, Tap Dance City, he too a Japan Cup winner, but after getting into a battle for the lead with Derby winner North Light he managed to beat only two home in the 2004 Arc which went to Bago, now the sire of Chrono Genesis.

Of all of Japan’s Arc contenders, though, none has arrived at Longchamp with anything like as much expectation and support as Deep Impact in 2006.

He had earned a towering reputation at home thanks to a career record of ten wins from 11 starts which included completing the Triple Crown when still unbeaten. Never having faced international competition prior to the Arc, it was hard to pin down exactly how good he was, though an encouraging international form line was provided by Heart’s Cry, the only horse to have beaten Deep Impact – he’d been beaten just a length into third behind Hurricane Run in the King George that summer.

Huge support

Three times as many Japanese fans were reckoned to have travelled to Longchamp for Deep Impact’s Arc bid than for El Condor Pasa’s, resulting in unprecedented scenes as ‘Impact Mania’ made itself felt at the track, particularly at the betting windows.

Support for Deep Impact contributed to a 55% increase in betting turnover on the day, sending his odds on the pari-mutuel crashing to 1/2 as many of his travelling fans placed small bets with the intention of keeping their tickets as souvenirs. Meanwhile, back home, 16% of the Japanese population was reported to have watched the Arc on television despite it taking place in the early hours in Japan.

But, as it turned out, Deep Impact’s supporters wouldn’t have been able to cash in their tickets anyway. Ridden more prominently than usual in a field of just eight, Deep Impact edged ahead in the straight but only briefly, ultimately passing the post in third behind Rail Link and Pride, beaten a neck and half a length.

Deep Impact hadn’t been given a prep run – ‘we don’t need to sharpen this great sword anymore’ his trainer had proclaimed beforehand in true samurai style – though in hindsight perhaps his colt had needed the outing after all.

On a positive note, Deep Impact put up a top-class effort in being beaten less than a length behind a highly progressive three-year-old, but the disappointment of his defeat was soon compounded when his post-race sample tested positive for a prohibited substance resulting in his disqualification. But Deep Impact redeemed himself in the eyes of his fans by winning twice more on home soil, in the Japan Cup and the end-of-year championship race, the Arima Kinen, before he retired to stud, and an outstanding career as a stallion, with a Timeform rating of 134.

Two years after Deep Impact, Take finished only tenth on Meisho Samson in Zarkava’s Arc but Japan went closer than ever in 2010 when four-year-old Nakayama Festa and the year-younger Victoire Pisa formed a two-pronged challenge.

There was no great support for either colt, with Nakayama Festa at 26/1 the shorter priced of the pair under Masayoshi Ebina who had gone close with El Condor Pasa (Take rode Victoire Pisa). Like earlier contenders Tap Dance City and Deep Impact, Nakayama Festa had won Japan’s mid-season championship race, the Takarazuka Kinen, and took his chance in the Arc after running a fair trial beforehand when second to John Gosden’s runner Duncan in a slowly-run Prix Foy.

That was hardly Arc-winning form but he excelled himself back at Longchamp three weeks later in running Workforce to a head, Nakayama Festa enjoying a smoother run than many of his rivals in a rough race and holding every chance before finding the Derby winner just too strong under Ryan Moore in the closing stages. Victoire Pisa wasn’t discredited, promoted a place to seventh.

Nakayama Festa tried again a year later (joined by another compatriot Hiruno d’Amour), neither figuring this time, though Japanese fans could be forgiven for thinking their luck had finally changed when favourite Orfevre swept into the lead over a furlong out under Christophe Soumillon in 2012.

However, their celebrations proved famously short-lived (though they went viral on social media!) No sooner had Orfevre gone a couple of lengths clear with the race seemingly sewn up, than he began to hang right, idling and then colliding with the rail just yards from the line by which time he had already been headed by the filly Solemia who got up for a neck win.

The quirky Orfevre, who had been the first horse to complete the Japanese Triple Crown since Deep Impact, was also the first Japanese Arc contender to be partnered by a leading European jockey. The new partnership got off to a winning start three weeks beforehand when Orfevre landed the odds in the Prix Foy and a repeat success, in impressive fashion, in the same trial 12 months later, meant that Orfevre and Soumillon started favourite again (backed down to 13/10 with many Japanese fans present once more) to atone for the year before.

Orfevre had to settle for second again but this time that was the best position he ever looked like attaining behind the brilliant five-length winner Treve. The Japanese had another leading contender to support with Japanese Derby winner Kizuna who’d beaten the Epsom Derby winner Ruler of The World in his trial, the Prix Niel.

Only the second three-year-old from Japan to contest the Arc after Victoire Pisa, Kizuna gave a good account in finishing just over two lengths behind Orfevre in fourth. As well as being a son of Deep Impact, Kizuna is also the sire of one of Japan’s Arc challengers this year, Deep Bond, who himself warmed up with a successful trial in the Prix Foy.

Perhaps scenting that an Arc victory was getting closer, Japan’s Arc challenge in 2014 was stronger than ever, numerically at least, with three contenders. But there was no joy for Harp Star, Just A Way or Gold Ship, with Harp Star (the first of her sex from Japan to contest the Arc) faring best of them despite being asked to make up an impossible amount of ground from the rear and passing a host of rivals in the final furlong to finish sixth behind Treve who was successful again.

Since then, the Japanese challenge has been found wanting. Another Japanese Derby winner, Makahiki, was sent off second favourite in 2016 after winning the Prix Niel but finished in rear behind Found at Chantilly, while Satono Diamond and Satono Noblesse fared no better for Orfevre’s trainer Yasutoshi Ikee against Enable a year later.

Clincher was one of the more forgettable Arc runners for Japan in 2018, while another three-strong raid, this time from Kiseki, Blast Onepiece and Fierement, all Group 1 winners at home, proved disappointing in 2019.

Deirdre became just the second Japanese-trained horse to win at Group 1 level in Britain (the 1999 Abbaye winner Agnes World won the following season’s July Cup) when winning the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood in 2019 but she could finish only eighth behind Sottsass in the 2020 Arc, with the latest Japanese challengers, Chrono Genesis and Deep Bond, just seventh and 14th (last of the finishers) 12 months ago.

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