Japanese horses show stuff during Arc trials

AFP-JIJI

Japan’s hopes of landing Europe’s most prestigious race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, after 33 years of heartbreak received a huge boost when both Kizuna and Orfevre won their Arc trials Sunday in impressive fashion.

Kizuna, this year’s Japan Derby winner, won the Group Two Prix Niel over the Arc distance of 2.4 km at Longchamp, the Parisian racecourse where the Arc will be run on Oct. 6.

Kizuna — quoted at 6/1 by English bookmaker Corals while rival Ladbrokes goes 8/1 — carries more than just the hopes of his connections.

He has also become an equine symbol for Japan and its bid to recover from the tsunami and earthquake that hit the country in 2011, killing over 18,000 people.

His name, which translates into English as ‘ties’ or ‘bonds,’ was a sentiment owner Shinji Maeda hoped would prevail among the Japanese people in the wake of the disaster.

Kizuna’s jockey, Yutaka Take, reflected both that feeling and the emotional following the horse has at home when he unfurled the Japanese flag after winning the Niel and paraded it in front of Japanese spectators.

“Kizuna is a very beautiful name and especially all that it symbolizes,” said the 44-year-old Take.

“I really appreciate being able to ride a horse with a name that carries so much emotional power and also because of the reason why he was called Kizuna. It gives me great pride to be given this responsibility.”

Take, who had a spell in Europe winning four Group One races but never won over his many critics, who questioned his power in tight finishes, said he has been impressed by the way Kizuna rallied to hold off Epsom Derby winner Ruler of the World.

“Despite not yet being in peak condition he still found more in the tank to repel Ruler of the World,” he said. “I was really impressed by the way he handled the track and how calm he was at the start, as here you wait far longer in the stalls than in Japan.”

Take has often been criticized for his tactics in top European races — his ride on White Muzzle in the 1994 Arc after coming far too late earned special opprobrium.

However, he insists Arc day will not bring any extra pressure.

“Maybe there could be more attention focused on me,” he said. “I don’t mind. I welcome the pressure. Indeed I am really looking forward to it.”

Orfevre, Japan’s 2011 Horse of the Year, captured the Prix Foy over 2.4 km for the second successive year, the 2,000th winner in France for his ace Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon, and is 4/1 joint favorite with French filly Treve for the Arc.