Racing: French catch Shuttle

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The Independent Online
WHEN YOU think of Deauville, you think of poodles attached to svelte women. You imagine Omar Sharif wandering from les planches, the boards that form a path over the Normandy beaches, you consider the Parisian smart set on leisurely breaks from the turbulence of the capital.

This week, though, notions about Deauville's clientele have had to be changed. Over recent days you have not been able to move for expensive cameras transported by little, dark-haired gentlemen. The Japanese are in town.

The visitors are not taking advantage of a travel offer from a Tokyo national newspaper. They are in Europe to chronicle great times for their horses. Seeking The Pearl became the first horse from Japan to win a European Group One race, the Prix Maurice de Gheest, on Sunday, and now there is great expectation that her home superior, Taiki Shuttle, will achieve similar high station in the Prix Jacques le Marois on Sunday.

"It's incredible the amount of interest these horses have generated," Desmond Stoneham, the French correspondent of the Racing Post, said yesterday. "Everywhere you turn there seem to be Japanese film crews relaying news back home. The fish restaurants are doing great business.''

It has long been fashionable to rubbish Japanese racing as an insular and mediocre sport. The only meaningful contact with the rest of the world seemed to be in the Japan Cup. But then the money in the Land of the Rising Sun started to attract top stallions from both Europe and the United States. It appeared an almost logical progression for a Derby winner to be parcelled up in the Epsom winners' enclosure, smothered in stamps, and posted to the Far East.

This exodus was considered partially acceptable because Japan showed little interest in foraging outside their shores. Certainly they do not have to for cash. Of the 13 richest races in the world, only three are held outside Japan.

Now, however, there seems to be a growing realisation that Japan can show its expertise to an equine world that has thus far leant back and scoffed as it accepted great wads of notes for its breeding animals.

Seeking The Pearl's victory made front-page news in their national press, and Taiki Shuttle's every breath is being recorded in the build-up to Sunday's prestigious mile contest. Baseball, the No 1 sport in Japan, has been forced into the interior of newspapers while features on horses and their riders, Yutaka Take, Seeking The Pearl's jockey, and Yukio Okabe, Taiki Shuttle's partner, dominate.

Taiki Shuttle is considered to be the filly's superior in his homeland. A winner of over pounds 2m from his 10 starts, he beat Seeking The Pearl by 10 lengths in the Grade One Yasuda Kinen this season. Among Men, Cape Cross and Lend A Hand, the projected opponents this weekend, have been warned.

It is also anticipated that Deauville on Saturday will be the stage for one of the most disappointing horses of the season. The Andre Fabre-trained Xaar was in just about every Ten to Follow after his devastating win in the Dewhurst Stakes last season, and there were plenty of clever fellows congratulating themselves after the colt had beaten Gulland in the Craven Stakes this spring.

The crowing was far less audible after the odds-on favourite finished only fourth in the 2,000 Guineas. After that there has been nothing. Xaar was reported to be suffering from an allergy post-Newmarket and was then running a temperature at a time when a return to the racecourse was envisaged.

Now he has something to prove in the Group Two Prix Guillaume d'Ornano. "The feeling is that he may have had a much harder race in the Craven than everyone realised," Stoneham said. "Now he's got to establish himself again."

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