After the European competitors for the Japan Cup (Jpn-I) stretched their legs on Tokyo Racecourse Nov. 22, their connections pondered the race as a rematch between French-based Solemia and Japanese-based Orfevre, the one-two finishers in this year's Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I).
The consensus seemed to be that while Solemia turned in an excellent Arc performance, Orfevre, winner of the 2011 Japanese Triple Crown and the country's 2011 Horse of the Year, will be hard to deny in the Nov. 25 Japan Cup. In the late stages of the Arc, Orfevre swooped to a daylight lead, only to be caught in the last moment by Solemia.
"I think Orfevre is definitely the one to beat," said Matt Cumani, assistant to his father, Luca Cumani, trainer of Mount Athos. "The filly (Solemia) is very good, obviously, but Orfevre seems like a solid group I performer. If we can beat him, then it means we've got a very decent horse on our hands."
Mount Athos, winner of the Betfred Geoffrey Freer Stakes (Eng-III), is coming off a fifth in the Nov. 6 Emirates Melbourne Cup (Aus-I). Cumani echoed the thoughts of those representing the other Europeans—Jakkalberry, third in the Melbourne Cup and winner of the inaugural American St. Leger at Arlington Park; Red Cadeaux, eighth in the Melbourne Cup and winner of the Sportingbet Yorkshire Cup (Eng-II); and Sri Putra, winner of the Sky Bet York Stakes (Eng-II).
"Orfevre is a phenomenal horse, possibly unlucky (in the Arc)," said Lucie Botti, who assists her husband, Marco Botti, in the training of Jakkalberry. "It's going to be very hard to beat him. On the other hand, I believe all of the horses had a long season."
Becky Dunlop, wife of Red Cadeaux's trainer, Edward Dunlop, agreed, saying, "Orfevre is the one that I would think would have the best chance. Looking at the Arc run, he looked particularly unlucky. He's the home horse. But the European horses look well, and I think they have all traveled well. Hopefully, we've all got a shout."
Roger Varian, trainer of Sri Putra, also acknowledged Orfevre as the horse to beat. But he pointed out the strengths of Rulership, a group I winner in Hong Kong, and 2012 Japanese filly triple crown winner Gentildonna.
"I think it's the home horses who create the biggest dangers," Varian said. "I was very impressed with Rulership's latest race, when he was third in the (Autumn) Tenno Sho (Jpn-I). I thought his finish that day was very strong, and he looked like the extra distance of the Japan Cup will suit him.
"Gentildonna looks like a superstar as well. Having to concede weight to her will be very difficult."
A daughter of 2006 Japan Cup winner Deep Impact, Gentildonna will be the first Japanese filly triple crown winner to compete in the Japan Cup. She and 4-year-old Solemia are the only two females in the race.
The connections of Solemia pointed out the long trip she has made from France to Japan.
"It's her first trip abroad," said trainer Carlos Laffon-Parais. "After her arrival, she seemed to be quite tired, and she lost weight."
The trainer said that Solemia has recovered both her energy and her weight. But he added that in traveling at the end of a year's campaign, "questions still remain."
Laffon-Parais said that Solemia appears to prefer soft ground and that the turf for the Japan Cup is expected to be firm. But he believes she will like the long stretch of Tokyo Racecourse.
"I think that Solemia has the best chance to win," said Solemia's jockey, Olivier Peslier. "But she has been traveling a long distance, and having gone through the quarantine, she is tired. Orfevre is already acclimatized to the Japanese local environment, so maybe this is going to be tough."
Pierre Yves Bureau, the manager for Wertheimer and Frere, the owners of Solemia, said that the Japan Cup will be the filly's final race. After the Japan Cup, she is scheduled to be retired and bred to Dubawi.
The Japan Cup is in its 32nd running this year. Conducted over 2,400 meters on the turf, it goes as the 11th race on Nov. 25 at 3:40 p.m. local Japanese time. It offers a purse of ¥521 million (about $6,512,000).
Having won the Arc, Solemia could also earn a bonus of ¥80 million (about $1 million) if she adds the Japan Cup.