PARIS (AFP) –
Camelot could break Japanese hearts and see off the challenge of their favourite Orfevre in Europe’s most prestigious race the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp on Sunday.
Orfevre — Japan’s 2011 horse of the year — is the 13th challenger sent by the Japanese in the past 33 years to try and conquer a race they compare to the quest for the Holy Grail.
The Yasutoshi Ikee-trained star’s chances were boosted in the past week as three of his biggest rivals dropped out, led by last year’s brilliant German winner Danedream.
However, Friday’s draw handed Orfevre a huge blow as he was drawn 18 of the 18 runners, a stall from which only the great Irish champion Alleged has previously won from in the first of his two victories in 1977.
By contrast Orfevre’s main rival and co-favourite Camelot will launch his challenge from the much more favoured stall five.
Camelot too will haAidan O’Brien hired him as O’Brien’s son Joseph is unable to do the weight.
While Joseph – who rode Camelot to his victories in the Epsom and Irish Derbies as well as the English 2000 Guineas – has the consolation of the ride on St Nicholas Abbey, Dettori is thrilled at the prospect of getting such an unexpected chance at landing a fourth Arc but first since 2002.
“It’s an honour for me to ride the horse,” said the 41-year-old.
“I think you want to judge the horse more on the Guineas and Derby runs.
“In the Leger (he was second last month) he was ridden to stay and it was a stop and start kind of pace early on and I still think he quickened really well in the end.”
The Japanese, though, have left nothing to chance this time round.
Ikee broke with tradition and for the first time ever it will be a non Japanese rider on board the challenger from Japan in the shape of two-time Arc winning rider Christophe Soumillon.
Like Soumillon Ikee, who first dreamed of winning the Arc when he worked for English trainer Sir Michael Stoute in the late 1990′s, believes his star is capable of winning.
“I believe he is getting better and better every day and I am confident,” said the 37-year-old, who will deploy a pacemaker in Aventino.
“He is a winner, he has the spirit of a champion and he has adapted to the different terrain in France.”
Ikee, whose trainer father Yasuo suffered disappointment in the 2006 edition when favourite Deep Impact finished third and was later disqualified for testing positive for a banned substance, winning the Arc for Japan would be immense.
“To give Japan their first win in what is the most important race in the world would be truly magnificent,” said Ikee.
“It has been a dream of mine for nearly 20 years and for the Japanese people it has been even longer.”
There are plenty of other dangers lurking, Andre Fabre can never be discounted given his record seven wins in the race, though, the last was in 2006, and he runs both Meandre – who was sixth last year – and Masterstroke.
Another French trainer to be double-handed is two-time winner Alain de Royer Dupre, whose main fancy is last year’s surprise runner-up Shareta and who has gone on to win two Group Ones this season.
“She is a very tough filly, who won the Prix Vermeille at Longchamp last month brilliantly,” said her 33-year-old jockey Christophe Lemaire.
“This is the ideal distance for her.”
If the big guns are to be upstaged it could well be by French Derby winner Saonois, whose trainer Jean-Pierre Gauvin has just 35 horses and trains in the unfashionable French racing backwater of Lyon.
Saonois will start from stall two, the same one as Danedream won from last year.
“He (Saonois) has evolved during the season, he is a bit stronger physically and is good both in his head and his speed,” said his jockey Anthony Hamelin, who has been the riding revelation in his rookie season.