Japanese superstar Orfevre suffered an agonizing defeat at the hands of the
unheralded French filly Solemia in the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe last
out, but aims to turn the tables back on his own home turf in Sunday's Grade 1
Japan Cup at Tokyo.
In some respects, Orfevre's career has recalled that of Japan's last
larger-than-life champion, Deep Impact. Orfevre's trainer, Yasutoshi Ikee, is
the son of Deep Impact's trainer, Yasuo Ikee. Both colts swept their nation's
Triple Crown at three, and set out to make a mark on the world stage at four,
but ultimately failed to give Japan its long-awaited breakthrough in the Arc.
Deep Impact atoned by coming right back to take the Japan Cup after his
Longchamp reverse, and now Orfevre looks to follow suit.
But for all of his natural talent, Orfevre hasn't been as straightforward as
Deep Impact, who was usually dominant and as utterly reliable as they come.
Orfevre lost more races at the beginning of his career (four) than Deep Impact
did in his whole life (two), then got his act together with a superb six-race
winning streak last year.
Reappearing in the Grade 2 Hanshin Daishoten on March 18, Orfevre threw it
all away in one of the most bizarre spectacles seen on a racecourse. The
reigning Horse of the Year dragged Kenichi Ikezoe to the lead going down the
backstretch for the second time in the 1 7/8-mile marathon, and suddenly veered
to the far outside. As Ikezoe started to pull him up, he was for all intents and
purposes out of the race. Just as abruptly, Orfevre saw the rest of the field
going ahead without him, and he went into overdrive to catch up. Amazingly, he
was in contention down the stretch, and nearly pulled off an unbelievable
recovery, but fell a half-length short.
Orfevre added blinkers next time out in the Grade 1 Tenno Sho Spring over two
miles, without success, at Kyoto. Although there was no repeat of his antics, he
never got involved from off the crawling pace and ended up an uncharacteristic
11th. The mind-boggling winner was 159-1 shot Beat Black, who capitalized on a
Just when Orfevre's season appeared to be in a tailspin, the flamboyant
chestnut got back to his best in the Grade 1 Takarazuka Kinen at Hanshin. Racing
without the blinkers, he sliced smartly between horses and brushed aside an
international Group 1 winner in Rulership.
Orfevre was now once more on course for his main objective, a trip to France
for the Arc. After a fluent score in his course-and-distance prep, the Group 2
Prix Foy on September 16, he ranked as the horse to beat. Orfevre looked a
certain Arc winner when he powered to the front in midstretch, only to lug in
toward the rail and flounder late on the heavy ground.
But the mudlark Solemia, one of those whom Orfevre had already blown by, kept
on. Clawing back the yards, the Wertheimer et Frere homebred collared Orfevre in
the final strides to prevail by a neck.
Solemia was winning her first Group 1. The Carlos Laffon-Parias filly had
good form this season, as evidenced by her victory over Shareta and Siyouma in
the Group 2 Prix Corrida and her third to Shareta in the Group 1 Prix Vermeille
at Longchamp September 16.
Yet Solemia has more questions to answer at Tokyo. No Arc winner has ever won
the Japan Cup, a record of futility extended by Danedream's sixth-place effort
here a year ago. Moreover, Solemia prospered in the conditions at her familiar
Longchamp, which won't likely be replicated in the Japan Cup. One thing,
however, will be constant, for Olivier Peslier will be back aboard.
Orfevre gets the home court advantage on Sunday, and that should prove
decisive in the rematch. The son of Stay Gold swept the first two legs of the
Japanese Triple Crown, the Grade 1 Satsuki Sho (Japanese Two Thousand Guineas)
and Grade 1 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby), in his last visits to Tokyo in 2011.
Ikezoe, who did not ride Orfevre in his two French races, reunites with the
idiosyncratic colt on Sunday. Just as he did in the Arc, Orfevre has drawn on
the far outside -- in this case, post 17.
Japan's bench is very deep, and several others are well qualified to keep
the trophy at home for the seventh straight year.
Christophe Soumillon, who guided Orfevre in the Foy and Arc, picks up the
mount on his stablemate Tosen Jordan. The son of 2001 Japan Cup star Jungle
Pocket enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2011, highlighted by a record-setting
victory in the Grade 1 Tenno Sho Autumn and a near-miss second to Buena Vista in
the Japan Cup.
Tosen Jordan started 2012 with a couple of solid efforts in defeat, including
a late-running second to Beat Black in that oddly-run Tenno Sho Spring. But his
campaign has since been hampered by hoof troubles, which kept him out of action
for six months. Plainly short on fitness when resuming for a title defense in
the October 28 Tenno Sho Autumn, Tosen Jordan never got involved in 13th. Ikee
has forthrightly said that he might still need another race, but that he's
showing signs of improvement. Tosen Jordan is drawn just to the inside of
Orfevre in post 16.
Japan's Filly Triple Crown heroine Gentildonna aims to make history as the
first three-year-old filly to land the Japan Cup. The daughter of Deep Impact
cut it close in the first and last fillies' classics, the Grade 1 Oka Sho
(Japanese One Thousand Guineas) and Grade 1 Shuka Sho last time out, but she was
thoroughly dominant in the middle jewel, the Grade 1 Yushun Humba (Japanese
Oaks) in May.
Significantly, the Japanese Oaks is held over this same 1 1/2-mile trip at
Tokyo, and Gentildonna posted by far her most convincing performance. Aside from
storming home by five lengths, the Sei Ishizaka trainee smashed the stakes
record by speeding in 2:23.6, also a slightly faster time than the 2:23.8
recorded by Deep Brillante in the Japanese Derby.
Gentildonna sometimes has an air of nonchalance as she goes about her
business, but she has a winning attitude. She brings a four-race winning streak
into the Japan Cup, and has captured six of eight lifetime starts. Her only
losses are a runner-up effort in her debut as a juvenile, and a fourth in the
Grade 3 Tulip Sho back in March, following a fever that had cost her training
time. Regular rider Yasunari Iwata has the return call aboard Gentildonna, who
gets in with a light weight of 117 pounds.
Eishin Flash, the 2010 Japanese Derby winner, comes off a brilliant victory
in the Tenno Sho Autumn over the course. Although he endured a two-year
losing streak prior to his October 28 success, the son of King's Best had some
high-profile placings to his credit along the way, including a close second to
Orfevre in last December's Grade 1 Arima Kinen. Christophe Lemaire has been
named to ride.
The three-year-old Fenomeno was a fine runner-up to Eishin Flash in the Tenno
Sho Autumn, where he ran a winning race on the outside, and might not have even
glimpsed his older rival charging up the fence. Fenomeno had suffered a
similarly tough defeat in this spring's Japanese Derby, just missing on the
head-bob to the now-retired Deep Brillante.
A son of Stay Gold like Orfevre, Fenomeno has looked a cut above in his two
Grade 2 victories in classic trials, the Aoba Sho and St. Lite Kinen. The
handsome dark bay is bound to earn a top-level win sooner or later.
Rulership comes off a bang-up third in the Tenno Sho Autumn. A bit
lackadaisical from the gate in his return from a four-month holiday, he rallied
furiously from a hopeless position, and his sharp trainer Katsuhiko Sumii
predicts a big showing on Sunday.
As a son of Japanese champion King Kamehameha and Horse of the Year Air
Groove, Rulership has started to live up to his pedigree. He proved himself on
the international stage in April, when slamming his foes in the Group 1 Queen
Elizabeth II Cup at Sha Tin, and subsequently chased Orfevre home in the
Takarazuka Kinen. Australian rider Craig Williams, who guided him to that
second-place effort, will renew acquaintance in the Japan Cup.
Dark Shadow, fourth to Eishin Flash, Fenomeno and Rulership in the Tenno Sho
Autumn, likewise closed from well back. The lightly-raced five-year-old has yet
to break through at the Grade 1 level, but he was beaten only a half-length by
Tosen Jordan in the 2011 Tenno Sho Autumn in record time. Dark Shadow has also
been a fairly consistent type, and his 2012 highlights include a runner-up
effort to Trailblazer in the Grade 2 Kyoto Kinen in February. The crafty Mirco
Demuro, no stranger to upsetting major Japanese races, takes over at the helm.
The eight-year-old Jaguar Mail has raced with honor in the past two Japan
Cups, finishing fourth in 2010 and third last year. Spelled following his
rallying fourth to Beat Black and Tosen Jordan in the Tenno Sho Spring, the
Jungle Pocket horse warmed up with a closing seventh in the Tenno Sho Autumn.
William Buick will team up with the Grade 1 veteran, who might be better
remembered for his strong efforts in defeat in three straight runnings of the
Group 1 Hong Kong Vase (2008-10).
Beat Black has not duplicated his Tenno Sho Spring performance in two subsequent efforts,
including a one-paced fourth in the Grade 2 Copa Republica Argentina at Tokyo
November 4. Although the stayer has his work cut out for him in the Japan Cup,
he will save ground from post 1.
Rose Kingdom was awarded the 2010 Japan Cup title in the stewards' room,
thanks to the controversial disqualification of Buena Vista. He has won only
once of 12 subsequent starts, and brings a year-long losing skid into this
renewal. Only ninth in last year's Japan Cup, Rose Kingdom has shown little this
season to suggest that he can recover his former glory. The son of King
Kamehameha exits a sixth in the Grade 2 Kyoto Daishoten in his return from
Meisho Kampaku was a fairly exposed five-year-old who had seemingly found his
appropriate level, but the step up to 1 1/2 miles in the Kyoto Daishoten proved
to be a revelation. Under confident handling, the son of Grass Wonder exploded
from well off the pace to defeat the grand old campaigner Oken Bruce Lee. The
Japan Cup represents a serious class hike, though, for the Grade 1 debutant.
Oken Bruce Lee will be making his fifth consecutive appearance in the Japan
Cup. Runner-up by a whisker to Vodka in the 2009 edition, the blaze-faced
chestnut has failed to crack the top three in his other tries, and is not quite
what he used to be. The seven-year-old has tended to save his best for Kyoto,
and remains winless from eight appearances at Tokyo.
Aside from Solemia, Europe has four other chances to end Japanese dominance
in this race. Three are coming out of the Group 1 Melbourne Cup --
third-placer Jakkalberry, fifth Mount Athos and eighth Red Cadeaux. All were
compromised by the soft pace scenario in the two-mile handicap.
Mount Athos is trained by the last European to take the Japan Cup, Luca
Cumani, whose Alkaased set a record time of 2:22.1 in 2005. A progressive
handicapper in the Cumani mold, Mount Athos was a perfect three-for-three in
England this year. The son of Montjeu crushed the up-and-coming stayer High Jinx
in the John Smith's Silver Cup at York, then easily garnered his Group debut in
the Group 3 Geoffrey Freer at Newbury in August. Mount Athos was among the
leading contenders in the November 6 Melbourne Cup, and his troubled fifth was
creditable enough in the circumstances. Ryan Moore retains the mount on the
well-bred gelding, who shortens up to 1 1/2 miles for the first time since the
summer of 2011.
Red Cadeaux, who famously missed by a pixel in the 2011 Melbourne Cup, never
got close this time after a slow start from a poor post. The Ed Dunlop charge is
probably better over longer trips, as suggested by his victory in the Group 2
Yorkshire Cup at 1 3/4 miles in May. But Red Cadeaux has placed in his last four
attempts at this distance -- a second to St Nicholas Abbey in the Group 1
Coronation Cup and thirds in the Hong Kong Vase, Group 2 Hardwicke and Group 2
Princess of Wales's Stakes. The gelded son of Cadeaux Genereux is also fresh,
having been unraced for four months ahead of his tilt at Melbourne, and picks up
the services of Gerald Mosse.
Italian Group 1 veteran Jakkalberry, third to Cirrus des Aigles and St
Nicholas Abbey in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic on World Cup night, has been
busier over the second half of the season. The Marco Botti trainee successfully
invaded Arlington Park for the August 18 American St Leger and later shipped to
Australia, where he prepped with a 13th in the Caulfield Cup. Jakkalberry fared
best of the European-based horses in the Melbourne Cup, but like Red Cadeaux,
could prefer longer events these days. Jockey Colm O'Donoghue maintains their
Sri Putra, winner of the Group 2 York Stakes two starts back, was last seen
finishing sixth behind Frankel in the Group 1 Juddmonte International at York on
August 22. Mostly campaigned around 1 1/4 miles, the Roger Varian charge
requires firmish turf and a fast pace to set up his late kick, and he could get
both at Tokyo. When conditions are right, he has hit the board behind the likes
of Rewilding, Twice Over and So You Think. Sri Putra has finished second in his
only two starts at 1 1/2 miles, in the 2010 International Bosphorus Cup and
Group 3 Glorious Stakes.
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