Japan trio set for Arc sharpeners at Longchamp
The withdrawal of Dubai World Cup champion Victoire Pisa from the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe due to injury came as a blow to the Japanese team after hopes had run high he could pull off something similar to what he did in Dubai and, with it, give Japan its first win of the coveted Arc.
Down but far from out, however, Japan's bid for the racing Holy Grail remains strong, with three horses – Nakayama Festa, Hiruno d'Amour, and Nakayama Knight -- still solidly in the running.
This weekend sees the trio to the Longchamp gate for their sharpeners on Sunday, Sept. 11, with Nakayama Festa and Hiruno d'Amour making up half the runners in the Prix Foy, a G2 event over 2,400 meters. The filly Sarafina, likely favorite in the Arc, will be running along with them and carrying 1.5 kg less than the males' 58 kg.
Youngster Nakayama Knight is entered in the Prix Niel, a 2,400-meter G2 with an expected field of six, all running under 58 kg.
Work has gone without any major hitches at their training grounds in France. Nakayama Festa was given an easy solo gallop over 5 furlongs of dirt on Wednesday with assistant trainer Koji Sasaki in the saddle. There was a slight unexpected happening when Nakayama Festa acted up. "We had planned to work at a different ground, "trainer Yoshitaka Ninomiya explained, "but we had to resort back to the usual track when his temper got the better of us. Still, his movement was good and he looked fine. He's ready to race."
Nakayama Festa (right),
2010 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe runnerup
Nakayama Festa's outstanding second-place performance in last year's Arc gave eventual winner Workforce a formidable run for the money and the racing world is keen to see a rematch this year. His form since last year's Arc, however, is hard to assess. Nakayama Festa was given only one run after returning to Japan from France. That was the Japan Cup in November, in which he went to the gate the second pick but managed only a 14th from among 18 runners. The Prix Foy will be his first race since the Japan Cup. Sired by Stay Gold, also a son of Sunday Silence, he was bred at Arai Bokujo in Mukawa-cho, Hokkaido. He has five wins and three seconds from 13 outings. Nakayama Festa picked up his first and only G1 last year with a winning run in the Takarazuka Kinen. In addition, he has won one G2 level race and a G3 level event. He is expected to be paired once again with his regular rider Masayoshi Ebina, who took the reins in last year's Arc.
Hiruno d'Amour, 2011 Tenno Sho (Spring) winner
Hiruno d'Amour, trained by Mitsugu Kon, worked under jockey Shinji Fujita, and did a fast 1,400 meters on turf alongside Kings Canyon, a charge of the France-based Japanese trainer Satoshi Kobayashi. "He's in good shape and has great tone on his hindquarters," Kon said of Hiruno d'Amour. "We pushed him to the finish and gave him a good workout." Fujita agreed. "He's ready enough and feels good."
Hiruno d'Amour, by the Sunday Silence-sired Manhattan Cafe, is out of the Lammtarra mare Share Elegance. Hiruno d'Amour's 14 starts to date have given him four wins, five seconds and a third. The colt leaped to graded level competition on his third race, but failed to find the winner's circle until this spring, with a win in the Sankei Osaka Hai (2,000 meters, G2) on April 3. He captured his first big prize his next time out, in his last outing, the prestigious Tenno Sho (Spring), a 3,200-meter G1 at Kyoto on May 1.
Nakayama Knight was paired with veteran jockey Yoshitomi Shibata, who raced the colt in tandem with one of Tony Clout's colts over 1,200 meters of turf. "We let the other horse run ahead, then pushed ours over the last 400 meters. He overtook him and finished 5-6 longs out in front. He's using his body well and running with solid movement. It was a good workout and we can field him in the Prix Niel as scheduled," Ninomiya said. Shibata liked the run. "The ground was heavy due to the rain the other day but he ran well. He's ready."
Nakayama Knight has finished first in three of his nine starts, along with three seconds. Also by Stay Gold, the colt started the year well with a win in the Kyodo News Service Hai (1,800 meters, G3), but went on to a fifth and a fourth in his next two runs, the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas)(2,000 meters, G1) and the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) (G1) over 2,400 meters. Nakayama Knight has yet to prove himself at distances longer than 1,800 meters. His other win was at the mile.
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