Hiruno d'Amour best of Japan trio in Arc trials, runs close second to Sarafina
Hiruno d'Amour (1st from left); Nakayama Festa (1st from right)
Hiruno d'Amour bolstered Japan's hopes for success in this year's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe with a strong second in the Prix Foy at Longchamp on Sunday. The Mitsugu Kon-trained Hiruno d'Amour finished a short neck behind the highly-touted Sarafina, expected to be the favorite in the Oct. 2 Longchamp racing icon.
Hiruno d'Amour'seffort stood out among the three horses from Japan in the buildup to the Arc. Also running in the 2,400-meter trial was Nakayama Festa, runnerup in last year's Arc. Nakayama Festa, a 5-year-old from the stable of Yoshitaka Ninomiya finished fourth in the field of four, half a length behind third-place finisher St Nicholas Abbey, who crossed the finish line 2 1/2 lengths after Hiruno d'Amour.
Sarafina, who was saddled 1.5 kg lighter than the other runners, clocked 2 minutes, 32.28 seconds over turf rated good to soft.
With no early speed in the lineup, the race got off to a slow pace with the two Japanese horses in front -- Nakayama Festa, with Masayoshi Ebina up, in the lead followed by Hiruno d'Amour, paired with Shinji Fujita.
Sarafina, racing with a shadow roll and guided by Christophe Lemaire, took up a position in the rear. At about 30 seconds into the running, St Nicholas Abbey moved into second position down the backstretch. Then, into the turn, Sarafina moved dangerously close onto the heels of Hiruno d'Amour and had to be momentarily checked.
Sarafina then went up the rail on his inside, while Nakayama Festa battled bravely to hold his ground against St Nicholas Abbey. Less than 100 meters from the finish, the four horses lined up with Sarafina squeezing between Hiruno d'Amour on her outside, St Nicholas Abbey on the inside. Sarafina pushed into the lead about eight strides out and held on for the win in an amazing show of guts that left Fujita stunned. "In Japan, no one would have ever squeezed up in such a narrow space," he said of the filly's nervy finish.
"We lost, but I think this run will tie in well with the next race," Fujita said. "He was bumped from behind and the final push was enough to lose one's balance but he hung on really well until the end."
Fujita said he had believed in his mount, despite the relative lack of attention surrounding Hiruno d'Amour.
"I want to turn this around in the big race. We've been together since his debut and it will be our second race together (here), so I aim on doing one better than today," Fujita said with confidence. "The winner today, Sarafina, will likely be the favorite for the Arc, but I think after today's result, they'll be looking at my horse differently. I'm satisfied." Hiruno d'Amour was the fourth pick of the Prix Foy.
Trainer Mitsugu Kon too viewed the performance with optimism.
"He was so quiet in the parade ring and the preliminaries that I wished he'd show a little more spark." Kon said. "I'd figured it would be a slow pace, but having Nakayama Festa take the lead helped us get a good position. He was running relaxed and if it had been in Japan I think he'd have won it."
Kon viewed Sarafina'spush up the rail as a sign she had no extra to spare. "The winner is the likely favorite for the Arc, but to have had to go up the inside like she did, I'd say she was having a rough time of it. I think we can expect to turn the tables next time out. (Hiruno d'Amour) still has room for improvement and is not in tiptop shape yet. I'm going to get him there now as we aim for the big race."
Nakayama Festa's Ninomiya was satisfied with the results, despite the fourth-place finish.
"It's raining but I'm feeling like blue skies," he said poetically. "Since the Japan Cup, I've only tuned him with work. We needed this race. Considering the condition he was in after arriving from Japan, we absolutely had to give him a sharpener."
Ninomiya praised the efforts of his staff saying, "Today's good run was the fruit of those efforts. He was relaxed. He jumped to the front from the start but he needed to be relaxed and just go with the flow and that's what he did. I wouldn't say this was his best today, but it was a good test run. The main event will be different from today's small field to be sure. I'll take good care of him and hope for the best."
Ebina also said the Prix Foy run was crucial.
"It was his first time running since the Japan Cup last year and you could not say he was in great shape. But, now that we've had a good run, I think he will improve for the next race. He took the lead and he was running balanced throughout. Only at the end did he run out of steam, but I think he'll have more for next time. The pace in the early half was slow and everything was saved for the finish. The difference was evident between those horses that have been racing right along and those that hadn't been. Considering how long he's been off, I'd say he did quite well. He's not in bad shape and he just may show quite a bit of improvement by the next time."
Also running on the Sunday card was Nakayama Knight in the Prix Niel. The 3-year-old was squarely beaten and finished a far last in the six-horse field. Ninomiya, who trains both Nakayama horses, said he may rethink the initially planned participation in the Arc.
"The rain day affected the turf and that was tough for this horse. We'll see how he looks after this, but I may move him to a slightly shorter race the day before the Arc," he said. "I had been worried about him mentally today, but he was very relaxed and raced well."
The Prix Niel was won by Reliable Man, ridden by Gerald Mosse with Meandre in second. Reliable Man clocked 2:32.43 over the 2,400 meters of turf. Nakayama Knight, with Yoshitomi Shibata in the saddle, finished some 10 lengths behind the winner.
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