Orfevre defeat snatched from jaws of Triomphe
The bewildering fact remains that Solemia, shock winner of the richest prize on the European Turf, would have won by seven lengths – rather than a mere neck – had Orfevre not been in the field at Longchamp on Sunday. But while she may yet lend substance to her transformation, at the Breeders' Cup next month, the consensus among aficionados leaving Paris yesterday was that Orfevre had been handsomely the best horse in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. The return of the rain that had laid the ground for Solemia's sunlit ambush suggested one obvious culprit. Many, however, were also inclined to volunteer another.
Christophe Soumillon is certainly distraught over his mount's defeat, not least on behalf of the Japanese adventurers whose professionalism radiated through Orfevre both before and during the race, in his condition and acceleration respectively. But the jockey is justified in protesting himself, to some degree, a victim of circumstance.
They had an atrocious draw, in the very widest of 18 stalls. Soumillon duly dropped Orfevre towards the rear, and decided not to push his luck, circling the field instead of seeking a path through weakening horses on the inside. The chestnut none the less motored down the outside with such gusto that he had burst into the lead with 300 yards to go, and quickly opened up by a couple of lengths. In conditions so inimical to flair, the manoeuvre instantly established Orfevre as worthy of the momentous legacy that beckons Japan's first Arc winner.
As Soumillon knew perfectly well, however, his mount does have a history of idling in front. Combined with the generosity of his abrupt effort, in such taxing ground, Orfevre's inattention left the door ajar for the rallying Solemia. In his heartbreak, the man who had won the 2003 running on Dalakhani attested that he had never ridden a better colt than Orfevre – and even seemed prepared to compare him with the queenly Zarkava, his 2008 winner.
"I had a horse to win the Arc, and lost," Soumillon said. "What more can I say? He pulled himself up 150 metres from the finish. It's terrible. When we turned into the straight, and I moved him out, his response was that of a champion. But then he hung in. I switched my whip but he still moved inward. I think he was floundering a bit, after he put that distance between himself and the others."
If he had the chance to ride the race again, Soumillon would surely try to pick his way through the field and so delay his arrival at its head. Even those who absolve him of blame, however, will be dismayed to hear Orfevre's young trainer at such pains to claim it for himself.
"I apologise to all the Japanese fans," Yasutoshi Ikee said. "He had enough to win. I think we proved that a Japanese Triple Crown champion is on a par with the world's best. But this is a matter of win or lose – and we have to win. He was able to run smoothly from the back, but he got left out in front, and was then marked and overtaken. For that to happen, shows that my own skills are not yet on a par with the world's best. From tomorrow, I am going to reassess things and I want to come back to win this race."
Every neutral will share a devout hope that his nation's serial frustrations in Paris will finally – and soon – be redressed by a trainer who could show humility to surpass even the palpable excellence of his colt's preparation.
Chris McGrath's Nap: Capacious (8.0) Wolverhampton)
Well-bred filly who took a big step forward on her first visit here, but still squeezes into a modest grade for her handicap debut.
Next best: Daaree (7.30 Wolverhampton)
Top-class pedigree but a mediocre rating to work on, the Godolphin colt's superiority in a Chester maiden disguised by greenness and traffic.
One to watch: Woodstock (Richard Hannon) was backed at long odds for his debut behind Magog at Salisbury last week and travelled well before tiring in testing conditions.
Where the money's going: Irish raider Alhellal is 16-1 from 20-1 with William Hill for the Betfred Cesarewitch at Newmarket on Saturday.
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