Reigning Japanese Horse of the Year Orfevre made an impressive late charge to capture the Takarazuka Kinen for his fifth grade I victory June 24 at Hanshin Racecourse.
The victory carries a full invitation to the Emirates' Airline Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Santa Anita Park in November for Orfevre. The chestnut colt won for the first time since taking the year-end Arima Kinen (Jpn-I).
The win marked a return to form for the 4-year-old Orfevre, who swept last year's Japanese Triple Crown but had been winless in two starts in 2012, including an 11th-place finish in the Tenno Sho Spring (Jpn-I) at 3,200 meters in his last race.
Orfevre was the number one selection of Japanese racing fans for the all-star Takarazuka Kinen, which the son of Stay Gold won by two lengths as the 3-1 favorite over second choice Rulership. There were 16 contestants in the 2,200-meter turf event (about 11 furlongs), which was timed in 2:10.9 on a firm course.
Last year's Takarazuka Kinen winner, Earnestly, who clocked a record 2:10.1 in 2011, finished seventh this time. A reported crowd of 61,102 was on hand at Hanshin.
Owned by Sunday Racing Co., Orfevre is out of Oriental Art, by Mejiro McQueen, and was bred by Shadai Corp.
Kenichi Ikezoe guided Orfevre to the comeback victory for trainer Yasutoshi Ikee. The trainer had previously expressed an interest in trying Orfevre in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) this fall, but he refrained from commenting on Orfevre’s future after the Takarazuka Kinen.
Runner-up Rulership partnered with Craig Williams, with whom he won this year’s Queen Elizabeth II Cup (HK-I) at 2,000 meters in Hong Kong. Shonan Mighty was 1 1/4 lengths farther back in third, with third favorite Win Variation finishing fourth.
Neko Punch accelerated smoothly from the outermost post at the start to reach the front while Rulership raced sixth and Orfevre was spotted alongside Win Variation racing near the rear. When the field closed in entering the homestretch, Rulership and Earnestly inherited the lead just briefly before Mount Shasta quickened from the inside to overtake them.
Orfevre, slipping out from the pack at the top of the homestretch, accelerated powerfully to catch Mount Shasta 100 meters out and pulled away to a comfortable win. Rulership and Shonan Mighty threaded through horses to rally from far back to earn the minor placings.