Japan trio ready for Arc weekend
Japan's trio of Longchamp contenders -- Nakayama Festa and Hiruno d'Amour in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1) on Sunday (Oct. 2) and Nakayama Knight in the Prix Dollar (G2) on Saturday (Oct. 1) – are ready and set for the big weekend. An Arc win this year, in the coveted race's 90th running, would be Japan's first, from what has been a long line of hopefuls.
Unusually dry and sunny weather in Paris and what is believed will be fast ground on race day kept punters guessing to the last minute as to the eventual field for Sunday's Arc. From among the final lineup, bookmakers are making the filly Sarafina the race favorite after her easy win of the Prix Foy. Australia's So You Think, winner of five group 1 races including the Cox Plate, is being touted as second pick. Australia, like Japan, has yet to see a winner in the Arc. Of the Japanese duo, Hiruno d'Amour, after his second-place performance in the Prix Foy, is regarded widely as more likely to fare well in the Arc. Other likely top picks in the 16-strong field, include Snow Fairy and Galikova. Workforce, winner of last year's Arc is also back in what will be a personal rematch for Japan's Nakayama Festa.
Hiruno d'Amour, 2011 Tenno Sho (Spring) winner
Wednesday, at his training ground in France, Hiruno d'Amour was given his last bit of fast work. The 4-year-old galloped under jockey Shinji Fujita in tandem with the colt Kings Canyon over grass. Afterward, trainer Mitsugu Kon commented, "I told them to do 6 furlongs in 82 or 83 seconds and push him over the last 3. His responses were good. It was a nice piece of work. We worked him hard last week, so today is more just putting on a finishing touch. His sweating is different from last week and his breathing is good," Kon said. "He's also looking more eager to run this time and he really looks in good shape." The following day, Kon said, "He's showing no signs of fatigue from yesterday's workout. He's relaxed and (Friday) we plan to take him once up the hill."
The anticipation of the big day had the usually cool Fujita more emotional than usual. "It's been my dream. It's the race I consider the No. 1 in the world," Fujita said Wednesday of the Arc. "It's taken 21 years, but I've finally gotten my chance. We've got the world as our competition but I think we're the best. I believe in Hiruno d'Amour. The only thing for me to do is ride him like I always do." The 39-year-old Fujita received his rider's license in 1991 and is currently No. 15 among Japan's jockeys with 51 wins so far this year. In addition to the G1 win aboard Hiruno d'Amour in the Tenno Sho (Spring), Fujita also picked up the G1 February Stakes partnered with Transcend. He has had top-level wins for the past four years straight.
Hiruno d'Amour, by the Sunday Silence-sired Manhattan Cafe, is out of the Lammtarra mare Share Elegance. Hiruno d'Amour's 15 starts to date, including the Prix Foy, have given him four wins, six seconds and a third. The colt leaped to graded 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 Festa (right),
2010 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe runnerup
On Thursday, Nakayama Festa was also looking in fine shape as he stretched his legs for a 90-minute walk. Trainer Yoshitaka Ninomiya said, "He's relaxed and his movement is good. We had some unexpected happenings before the Prix Foy that disrupted training, but this time everything has gone according to plan."
Ninomiya, 58, and a trainer since 1990, has won three top-level races in Japan, two with El Condor Pasa, the other with Nakayama Festa. Ninomiya also has dared to take on the big races outside of Japan and has the nation's best record in the Arc -- two seconds -- to his name. The first was notched by El Condor Pasa in 1999. Though 10 horses have tried, the first in 1969, a Japan-based horse has yet to give the country its first Arc victory.
Last year, Masayoshi Ebina got Nakayama Festa to within a head of the winner, as the jockey bettered his Arc effort of 11 years ago and until now Japan's best performance -- El Condor Pasa's second to Montjeu by half a length. The challenge by Nakayama Festa to Workforce in the final stages of last year's Arc was called a "surprise" in many postrace reports worldwide. And, considering that the field was bursting with 16 horses vying for the 4-million-euro purse, Nakayama Festa's run was all the more noteworthy.
Nakayama Festa was given only one run after returning to Japan from France. That was the Japan Cup last November, in which he went to the gate the second pick but managed only a 14th from among 18 runners. On Sept. 11, he was given his first race since the Japan Cup. That race was the Prix Foy at Longchamp, in which he finished fourth. Sired by Stay Gold, also a son of Sunday Silence, Nakayama Festa was bred at Arai Bokujo in Mukawa-cho, Hokkaido. He has five wins and three seconds from 14 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 will be paired once again with his regular rider Masayoshi Ebina, who took the reins in last year's Arc. The 42-year-old Ebina is currently No. 4 among Japanese jockeys, with 71 wins thus far this year.
The 3-year-old Nakayama Knight, originally aimed for the Arc as well, was switched to the Prix Dollar, the seventh race on the Saturday card at Longchamp. A field of 11 will run in the group 2 turf race for 3-year-olds and up. The distance is 1,950 meters. Nakayama Knight will carry 55 kg, 5 kg lighter than the heaviest weight assigned.
Nakayama Knight has finished first in three of his 10 starts, and notched three seconds. 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.
Japanese horsemen have long dreamed of winning the Arc and first took on the challenge 41 years ago -- in 1969 -- when Yuji Nohira and Speed Symboli became the first Japanese pair to enter the race. This year will be Japan's 10th bid and second double entry. Before El Condor Pasa, all results for Japan had been in the double digits. Though Deep Impact crossed the line in third place in 2006, drug tests later led to his disqualification. All but one of the 10 Japan-trained horses previously entered in the Arc have been ridden by Japanese jockeys. In addition, four U.K. or Europe-trained horses have been ridden by Japanese, the best result among them being a third-place finish by Yutaka Take aboard the Andre Fabre-trained Sagacity in the 2001 Arc.
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