By Myra Lewyn
Gerard and Alain Wertheimer's filly Solemia won the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) on Oct. 7 at Longchamp in a huge upset, overtaking front-runner Orfevre in the final strides in a heartbreaking loss to the Japanese superstar.
Japan's 2011 Horse of the Year and Triple Crown winner, Orfevre raced near the back of the field on heavy going under French champion jockey Christophe Soumillon, but swept past nearly all the field on the outside and into command about 200 meters out.
Opening a three-length lead and looking like he would land a historic first victory from 12 tries in the race for Japan, Orfevre weakened a bit on the stamina-draining ground nearing the finish. He could not hold back the tremendous rally of Solemia, who raced in contention from the start along the rail before landing her first group I victory by a neck.
"It's the Arc!" trainer Carlos Laffon-Parias exclaimed to the French press after landing his first win in the race. "I thought we were beaten in the straight, then I saw Orfevre stopping."
Solemia provided jockey Olivier Peslier a fourth win in the Arc, Europe's premier middle-distance race, after three consecutive wins from 1996-1998. The Irish-bred filly covered the Arc's 1 1/2 miles in 2:37.68 on turf rated as heavy after breaking from post 6, from which three of the last seven winners have started. Orfevre was drawn widest of all in post 18 and raced on the far outside throughout before his crushing defeat.
"I thought I was racing for a place, but she was very brave," said Peslier, 39, who last won the Arc in 1998 aboard Sagamix. He also won in 1996 with Helissio and in 1997 with Peintre Celebre.
"He did everything, but he stopped in the final 150 meters," a disappointed Soumillon said told France's Press Association. "It's such a shame; he had so much potential."
The Wertheimer brothers, owners of the House of Chanel in Paris, enjoyed a first win in the event but continued a family tradition. Their father, Jacques, won the race twice, with Ivanjica in 1976 and Gold River in 1981. Earlier on the card, the brothers enjoyed a win with Silasol in the Total Prix Marcel Boussac-Criterium des Pouliches (Fr-I).
Solemia came into the Arc having finished third to Arc contender Shareta in the Qatar Prix Vermeille (Fr-I) Sept. 16 at Longchamp. Shareta failed to handle the testing ground in the Arc and finished ninth.
"Soft ground is very important to her. I hoped she might get a place and obviously this is much better,'' Laffon-Parias said of the winner. "Sometimes the jockey can make the difference and Olivier Peslier is the one who won the race."
Peslier used all of his experience to time his move perfectly and, as Orfevre's legs started to go in the closing meters, Solemia surged forward to deny the Japanese a victory once more in the prestigious race
"I love Japan, and Orfevre was my favorite before the race, even with that number (18 post),'' Peslier said. "I'm very happy for myself, and very sad for the Japanese. But this is racing and these things happen.''
Godolphin's Masterstroke finished third, seven lengths behind Orfevre.
The early pace was set by trainer Aidan O'Brien's Ernest Hemingway and Robin Hood, stablemates of Camelot, who was seeking redemption after failing in his bid to sweep the English Triple Crown in the Ladbrokes St. Leger (Eng-I) last month. He was never a threat under Frankie Dettori and finished seventh. O'Brien also sent out St Nicholas Abbey, who finished 11th.
Camelot came into the race as a top choice along with Orfevre, but the 3-year-old colt showed litte under three-time Arc winner Frankie Dettori. Camelot won the Two Thousand Guineas and the English Derby (both Eng-I) in 2012 earlier in the year, and Dettori said the horse was a bit tired.
"It was just a long season took its toll,'' Dettori said. "I had a perfect trip and he took me beautifully into the straight on the bridle, but just as soon I knew we were in trouble and in fairness to the horse he's been going for some time since the Guineas.''
Solemia has won half of her six starts this season, including the Prix Corrida (Fr-II) in May at Saint-Cloud. Her overall record improves to five wins, three seconds, and two thirds from 13 starts.
By Poliglote, she was produced by the Shirley Heights mare Brooklyn's Dance. Solemia is a three-quarter sister to French group winners Prospect Park and Prospect Wells from the family of leading French sire and classic winner Green Dancer and European champion and English classic winner Authorized.
Expected favorite Danedream, last year's impressive Arc winner, was pulled out of the race a few days earlier when her stable in Germany was placed under quarantine due to an outbreak of equine infectious anemia.