If Yasutoshi Ikee does not have a picture of Robert The Bruce and his spider pinned up in his office, then perhaps he should have. There has never been a Japanese-trained winner of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. But raiders from the East have suffered some agonising near-misses, and this afternoon in Paris the Kyoto-based Ikee will try and try again for himself, his family and his country's pride.
The first runner from Japan in the Longchamp showpiece was Speed Symboli in 1969, the year Ikee was born. The raider's appearance was something of a novelty and, as a 99-1 outsider, he duly finished near the back of the field. But since then the Japanese, after heavy investment in Western bloodlines, have become major players on the global thoroughbred stage, with victories that include the Melbourne and Dubai World Cups.
Europe's most prestigious race, however, has remained elusive. In 1999 El Condor Pasa led until the last 100 yards, beaten half a length by the outstanding Montjeu. In 2006 Deep Impact, trained by Ikee's father, Yasuo, and backed down to 1-2 favourite by thousands of the travelling faithful, found Rail Link and Pride narrowly too good and, to add to national chagrin and embarrassment, was later disqualified after a positive, though unsinister, dope test.
In 2010 the little-considered Nakayama Festa went under by a head to Workforce, and 12 months ago Ikee's charge Orfevre threw certain victory away by swerving as he powered clear inside the final furlong, allowing the 33-1 shot Solemia to catch him in the last stride.
Orfevre is favourite to make amends this afternoon after posting an impressive victory in last month's prep, the Prix Foy, and securing a favourable starting position in stall eight. Last year's Arc was not the first time he had shown wayward tendencies, but he is now a year older and – Ikee hopes – wiser. In his final workout four days ago, partnered by big-race rider Christophe Soumillon, the chestnut five-year-old ran straight as a die past and away from his galloping companions. "I don't fear any of his rivals on Sunday," Ikee said afterwards, "but I fear Orfevre, for he is his own biggest rival. But we must hope that what he has done in practice he will do in the heat of battle."
Ikee first began thinking of Arc glory during time spent in Newmarket honing his skills with Sir Michael Stoute, when that stable's Pilsudski ran second in the 1997 edition. "The Arc counts a lot to me," he said, "but it is not just about me; it also counts a lot for the Japanese racing world and last year I disappointed hugely the Japanese people.
"It is the big dream of Japan to win this race – it is the best race in the world – and I hope to be the person who brings that dream to fruition."
Japan is two-handed this afternoon, with credible back-up from Kizuna, narrow winner of another of the traditional Longchamp trials, the Prix Niel. The three-year-old, a son of Deep Impact trained by Shozo Sasaki, is one of three of this year's Derby winners in this afternoon's field: he took the Tokyo version, his short-head victim last month, Ruler Of The World, scored at Epsom, and Intello won at Chantilly.
The Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe is Europe's richest contest, with this afternoon's winner earning £2.3 million, and the world's third most valuable on turf, after the Japan and Melbourne Cups. Despite a regular international challenge (lessened on this occasion by the defection through illness of the much-fancied German challenger Novellist) it is a prize jealously guarded by the home side, with 65 victories in 91 runnings, though only half of the last dozen.
The trainer with the best record is France's 24-times champion André Fabre, who gives himself five chances of an eighth success through Intello, Flintshire, Ocovango, Penglai Pavilion and Pirika. The market says France's best hope, despite her statistically unfavourable widest draw, is the markedly progressive three-year-old filly Treve, who comes to the fray from Criquette Head-Maarek's yard with a four-from-four unblemished record, most recently in the Prix Vermeille.
Treve was added to the field last week at a cost of €100,000 (£85m), as was the Czech outsider Meandre and the St Leger hero Leading Light, who, with his Aidan O'Brien stablemate Ruler Of The World, represents Ireland. A winner of the oldest Classic has yet to take an Arc; Ruler Of The World will be trying to follow the hoofprints of fellow Derby winners Sea-Bird, Mill Reef, Lammtarra, Sea The Stars and Workforce. The challenge from Britain is likewise only two strong, headed by the Roger Charlton-trained Al Kazeem.
The Arc was founded in 1920 with the intention of promoting international competition. Orfevre can push those boundaries in the Bois de Boulogne today and satisfy Japan's yen for victory, at the expense of Treve, Ruler Of The World and Intello.
3.15: Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Group 1) €4,800,000 1m 3f 205y
1 113742 Very Nice Name (21) A De Mieulle (FR) 4 9-5 Pierantonio Convertino 1
2 41-1111 Novellist (35) A Wohler (GER) 4 9-5 (Non-runner)
3 111132 Al Kazeem (29) Roger Charlton (GB) 5 9-5 James Doyle 18
4 19-6302 Joshua Tree (49) Ed Dunlop (GB) 6 9-5 Richard Hughes 14
5 469331 Meandre (14) A M Shavuyev (CZ) 5 9-5 Umberto Rispoli 2
6 1122-11 Orfevre (21) Yasutoshi Ikee (JAPAN) 5 9-5 Christophe Soumillon 8
7 11-5234 Going Somewhere (21) D Smaga (FR) 4 9-4 Gregory Benoist 4
8 722366 Haya Landa (21) Mme L Audon (FR) 5 9-2 Franck Blondel 17
9 314653 Pirika (21) A Fabre (FR) 5 9-2 Pierre-Charles Boudot 3
10 12114 Flintshire (21) A Fabre (FR) 3 8-11 Maxime Guyon 7
11 41-1111 Leading Light (22) Aidan O'Brien (IRE) 3 8-11 Gerald Mosse 5
12 1-11533 Ocovango (21) A Fabre (FR) 3 8-11 Stephane Pasquier 13
13 612121 Penglai Pavilion (17) A Fabre (FR) 3 8-11 Mickael Barzalona 10
14 3-51111 Kizuna (21) Shozo Sasaki (JAPAN) 3 8-11 Yutaka Take 11
15 11152 Ruler of The World (21) Aidan O'Brien (IRE) 3 8-11 Ryan Moore 6
16 133232 Sahawar (50) C Ferland (FR) 3 8-11 Thierry Thulliez 16
17 131131 Intello (15) A Fabre (FR) 3 8-11 Olivier Peslier 9
18 1-111 Treve (21) Mme C Head-Maarek (FR) 3 8-8 Thierry Jarnet 15
Betfair betting forecast: 9-4 Orfevre, 9-2 Treve, 13-2 Kizuna, 12-1 Ruler Of The World, 10-1 Intello, Leading Light, 11-1 Flintshire, 16-1 Al Kazeem, 25-1 Ocovango, 40-1 Meandre, 50-1 Very Nice Name, 66-1 Prika, Joshua Tree, 80-1 Penglai Pavilion, 100-1 Going Somewhere, Sahawar, Haya Landa