- POSTED: 16 Sep 2013 09:32
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Japan's hopes of landing Europe's most prestigious race, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, after 33 years of heartbreak received a huge boost when both Kizuna and Orfevre won their Arc trials in impressive fashion.
PARIS: Japan's hopes of landing Europe's most prestigious race, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, after 33 years of heartbreak received a huge boost when both Kizuna and Orfevre won their Arc trials in impressive fashion.
Kizuna, this year's Japan Derby winner, won the Group Two Prix Niel over the Arc distance of 2400 metres (1 1/2 miles) at Longchamp, the Parisian racecourse where the Arc will be run on October 6.
Kizuna -- who is quoted at 6/1 by English bookmakers Corals while rivals Ladbrokes go 8/1 -- carries more than just the hopes of his connections.
He has also become an equine symbol for Japan and their bid to recover from the tsunami and earthquake that hit north eastern Japan in 2011 killing over 18,000 people.
His name, translated into English as 'ties' or 'bond', was a sentiment his owner Shinji Maeda hoped would prevail among the Japanese people in the wake of the disaster.
Kizuna's jockey Yutaka Take reflected both that feeling and the emotional following the horse has at home when he unfurled the Japanese flag after winning the Niel and paraded it in front of Japanese spectators.
"Kizuna is a very beautiful name and especially all that it symbolises," said 44-year-old Take.
"I really appreciate being able to ride a horse with a name that carries so much emotional power and also because of the reason why he was called Kizuna.
"It gives me great pride to be given this responsibility."
Take, who had a spell in Europe winning four Group One races but never won over his many critics who questioned his power in tight finishes, said he had been impressed by the way Kizuna rallied to hold off Epsom Derby winner, Ruler of the World.
"Despite not yet being in peak condition, he still found more in the tank to repel Ruler of the World. I was really impressed by the way he handled the track and how calm he was at the start, as here you wait far longer in the stalls than in Japan."
Take has often been criticised for his tactics in top European races -- his ride on White Muzzle in the 1994 Arc after coming far too late earned special opprobrium.
However, he insists Arc day will not bring any extra pressure.
"Maybe there could be more attention focused on me," he said.
"I don't mind. I welcome the pressure. Indeed I am really looking forward to it."
Orfevre, Japan's 2011 Horse of the Year, captured the Prix Foy over 2400 metres for the second successive year, the 2000th winner in France for his ace Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon, and is 4/1 joint favourite with French filly Treve for the Arc.
However, for Soumillon the landmark will mean nothing if he does not settle unfinished business in the Arc.
He and Orfevre saw certain victory snatched from their grasp in last year's race.
The horse's quirky character unfortunately bubbled to the surface at the worst possible moment and he drifted towards the rails, bouncing off them and almost came to a halt.
Outsider Solemia needed no encouragement and took the honours with Orfevre second.
"This horse has given me the most pleasure in recent years," said 32-year-old Soumillon, who has won two Arcs, the last in 2008.
"He is certainly the best I have ridden in the past few years. He won the Foy in brilliant style on Sunday, he flew down the straight and never hinted he might repeat what he did here last year.
"However, now it is all about October 6 and setting the record straight. Not just for me, or the connections but for all those many Japanese people who were so bitterly disappointed last year."
Orfevre's trainer Yasutoshi Ikee disagreed with Soumillon saying each race was different and they were starting from zero -- his main fear is Orfevre himself.
"Orfevre is his own biggest rival. He is so unpredictable," said the 38-year-old.
"We have worked on this and we just hope being a year older and more mature he will behave himself on the day."