KYOTO – Orfevre became the seventh Japanese Triple Crown champion of all time by crushing the field in the 72nd Kikka-sho on Sunday at Kyoto Racecourse.
Jockey Kenichi Ikezoe unleashed Orfevre down the 400-meter home stretch and never looked back as the overwhelming first choice went under the wire a comfortable 2½ lengths in front of runnerup Win Variation in the 3,000-meter contest.
Orfevre had won the first two legs of the Triple Crown — the Satsuki-sho in April and the Japanese Derby in May — to bid for a place in Japanese racing history.
The Yasutoshi Ikee-trained colt, who cut a winning time of 3 minutes, 2.8 seconds, is the first Triple Crown winner since Deep Impact in 2005.
Saint Lite (1941), Shinzan (1964), Mr. C.B. (1983), Symboli Rudolf (1984) and Narita Brian (1994) are the five others to have accomplished the feat, and all have been enshrined in the Japan Racing Association’s hall of fame.
“It’s a huge load off my shoulders,” said the 32-year-old Ikezoe, the only jockey Orfevre has known who won his first Kikka-sho title.
“Everyone was saying we were a sure thing and while a horse doesn’t know what’s being said or written about him, people do. There was no way I could cave in and let us lose today.”
“I can’t thank him enough for making me a Triple Crown jockey. It sure feels good,” he said.
Ikee, who also captured the race for the first time, followed in his retired father Yasuo’s footsteps to become a Triple Crown-winning trainer. Yasuo Ikee trained Deep Impact, who won the honor with a perfect record.
They are the first father-and-son trainers to capture the Triple Crown.
“I’m so relieved,” Yasutoshi Ikee said. “I didn’t really tell the jockey anything specific as far as tactics go, but we talked about wanting to be close to the lead going into the final turn.
“When Deep Impact won it, he was within striking distance rounding for home.”
The 17 other runners never came close to threatening Orfevre, who cruised to his fifth straight victory in his 10th career start. Third-place Tosen Ra crossed the line another two lengths behind second pick Win Variation.
“We were positioned too far toward the back to catch him,” Win Variation’s trainer Masahiro Matsunaga said. “But Orfevre was in a league of his own. He was head and shoulders above everyone else.”
After breaking smoothly from the No. 14 stall, Orfevre traveled mid-pack throughout the entire journey. He was a little agitated on the first bend, but Ikezoe got his partner to quickly simmer down.
Orfevre had caught leaders Roccaverano and Sadamu Patek by the mouth of the final straight and from thereon the rest was history. The gap only widened with each stride Orfevre took as the Stay Gold son came home to the roar of the Kyoto crowd.