America’s Best Racing Staff Writer
CHANTILLY, France — It seems attrition knows no boundaries. It’s not just in America, where the journey to a still-elusive Triple Crown has proven to be so taxing on the best 3-year-olds. Overseas, it’s déjà vù – for all ages.
Welcome to France, where the $5.1 million Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-G1) will be run Sunday in Paris without its defending champion. And Danedream, who ran the fastest-ever Arc last year on a track baked by a late summer, was available. If only she had not been stabled at a quarantine facility where one of the 350 other horses got swamp fever. But she was, so the German filly will not make the trip, or any other, for a while.
That news dropped before our plane from New York took off. No sooner had the flight attendant told us to fasten our seats (that’s not a mistake; it was a flight on American) than we also find out last year’s third-place finisher – Snow Fairy – is out with a tendon injury in a leg familiar with trouble from last year. And Nathaniel, who was among the betting favorites over here, had a fever Tuesday so he will not have a race Sunday.
So as we asked back home after I’ll Have Another was scratched out of the Belmont Stakes (G1), who is left?
Who, indeed, is Orfèvre. Already made the favorite with or without Danedream and the others, this 4-year-old colt now at 11-4 odds was born, raised and trained in Japan. With nearly $11 million in career earnings, he is so big a star that he lured 60 journalists – about a third of them from Japan – to this equine heaven that is the 5,000-acre training center in the forest at Chantilly. (Drop this place into New York, and by comparison Saratoga would look like a merry-go-round.)
NO SHORTAGE OF MEDIA COVERAGE FOR ORFEVRE'S WEDNESDAY GALLOP
Getting to Chantilly was no easy ride on the Paris Métro. It required getting up while it was still dark in “The City of Light,” loading ourselves into vans and riding for about an hour north into the very green countryside on a dank, gray day, walking about a mile across the seemingly endless grass damp from recent rain and then passing finally through a wall of trees to the end of a mile-long strip of straightaway training turf.
GRAY DAY AT CHANTILLY
After about a 15-minute wait, someone said, “Il est à l’extérieur.” And into view came Orfèvre – a taut, chestnut body with churning legs, a white blaze down his nose and a star jockey on his back. He ran past with two other horses, and less than a minute later he was out of sight again.
ORFEVRE PREPPING FOR ARC BID
“He looks like a horse who will be able to do something well in the next Sunday race,” said jockey Christophe Soumillon, the 31-year-old Belgian who has already won the Arc twice for the Aga Khan. This 1½-mile ride on the Longchamp turf would be for Japan.
“It’s a really big story,” Japanese TV racing host Shinichi Watanabe said. “Only European horses have won this race, so if Orfèvre wins it’s really big news in the world.”
SOUMILLON AND TRAINER YASUTOSHI IKEE CHAT AFTER ORFEVRE'S GALLOP
Named for the French word meaning goldsmith, Orfèvre became a big story last year when he won Japan’s Triple Crown – basically like England’s Two Thousand Guineas, Epsom Derby and St. Leger. And basically unlike America, since there have been five Triple Crown sweeps in Japan since Affirmed last accomplished the feat in the U.S. in 1978.
The grandson of 1989 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Sunday Silence had a slow start this year with two losses halting a six-race winning streak. When he won last month’s Prix Foy, a Group 2 race on the same Longchamp course on which he will run Sunday, his role as one of the Arc favorites was set, and he became the biggest prerace thing to hit Paris since French filly Zarkava in 2008.
“He is very intelligent,” Soumillon said. “He has a great ability to run a mile, 1,200 meters (about six furlongs) or 3,000 meters (about 1 7/8 miles) with the same speed and good turn of foot. He’s very versatile. That’s what makes him special.”
SOUMILLON DISCUSSES ORFEVRE WITH MEDIA
Soumillon seemed impatient in his brief, translated-into-three-languages session with the media, insisting that when it comes to the attention he is handling it “I think quite well.” It was instead left to trainer Yasutoshi Ikee, 43, to come off like the calm sage in his own session with the media a little later. This time, though, away from the workout tracks and the stables and instead in front of the center’s modest entrance, complete with two old champion horses who are the equine versions of casino greeters.
FRENCH CHAMPIONS EL PASO II (near) and AL CAPONE II (far)
While Ikee said he would be concerned the pace could be too slow or the ground too soft from rain, he said he could not worry about competition that may or may not be in the Arc. That now includes a British star — 3-year-old Camelot — and his newly assigned Italian rider. In danger of being without an Arc mount for the first time in 25 years, Frankie Dettori got the call from trainer Aidan O’Brien after Snow Fairy’s exit made him available.
As for Ikee, though, “His commitment is concentrated on his horse,” his translator said. “So as long as he could run with a rhythm, that will bring the best result.”
That and ensuring Orfèvre stays healthy between now and race time Sunday.
IKEE ADDRESSES THE PRESS
MORE IMAGES FROM CHANTILLY
An early race Wednesday at Chantilly.
In the paddock at rainy Chantilly.
Well-manicured grounds at Chantilly, host of Sunday's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.