Orfevre (red cap) is denied agonisingly by Solemia in 2012
PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
By James Burn 8:32PM 1 OCT 2016
WINNING the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe has become something of a national obsession for Japan, whose hopes for Sunday’s race rest with Makahiki.
There is no contest the country covets more than Europe’s richest race, but luck has not always been on their side.
Why is it so important?
Before the advent of the Japan Cup in the 1980s, Japan barely existed on the wider racing map. Fast forward to 2016, and it is a racing and bloodstock superpower with a string of major successes abroad.
For all that, there remains an itch to scratch.
“We believe for most people in the world the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is the best race and we recognise that too,” the Japan Racing Association’s London representative Yuichi Goto said in 2012.
“The JRA has been trying to promote international races at home and we have opened up our races for foreign connections, but it is also very important for us to show Japanese horses around the world in the major international races – we want to be recognised across the world, not just in Japan. The Arc is the most important race for that.”
Speed Symboli became the first Japanese runner in the 1m4f showpiece when he finished 11th in 1969, but the Arc fascination grew after El Condor Pasa pushed the mighty Montjeu all the way in 1999.
Deep Impact, Japan’s greatest ever horse and the sire of Makahiki, had his turn in 2006, and his fervent supporters could not consider defeat, sending him off an odds-on shot on the pari-mutuel.
However, he could finish only third behind Rail Link, and was later disqualified for testing positive for a banned substance. If anything, that increased Japan’s desire.
Only a Ryan Moore-inspired Workforce denied Nakayama Festa in 2010, while the enigmatic Orfevre was to prolong the agony in 2012.
The previous year’s Triple Crown hero in his homeland, he was brilliant, but wayward. Talent, however, seemed to be beating temperament when he cruised into the lead and shot clear.
“It’s Orfevre for Japan, they’re going to do it,” exclaimed commentator Ian Bartlett. They weren’t.
The quirky chestnut idled and hung right, allowing Olivier Peslier to galvanise outsider Solemia.
Orfevre returned 12 months later to fill the same spot, but was no match for Treve, who also proved too good for oriental raiders Harp Star, Just A Way and Gold Ship in 2014.
So, can Makahiki end 47 years of hurt?
Japan may feel they have already endured their slice of bad Arc luck as the classy Duramente, who also missed the race last year, suffered a career-ending injury when a 12-1 shot for Chantilly in June.
Like his unfortunate counterpart, the Yasuo Tomomichi-trained Makahiki has a Japanese Derby on his CV and has been campaigned with realising his nation’s dream all year.
He arrived in France in August, won the Prix Niel, which is a decent trial, and has pleased connections, who are now relying on Japanese-based French rider Christophe Lemaire.
“Unfortunately I am not divine so I can’t tell you for sure this will be the year,” said the jockey, himself bidding for a first Arc triumph.
“What is certain is that this year Japan has come with a high-quality horse. If he has a little something extra than the others who tried then it is that he has a very good mind.”