Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Can Orfevre become the first Japanese winner of the Arc de Triomphe?

--Mark Cramer

   On Sept. 16, the day of the three preps at Longchamp for the G1 Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe--all at the mile-and-a-half distance--Orfevre (Stay Gold), the current 5/2 favorite in the books and potentially the first Japanese horse to win the Arc, raced behind fractions of 1:36.34 for the first seven furlongs (Prix Foy). And in the 3-year-old prep (Prix Niel), Saônois (Chichicastenango) did 1:36.48 for the first seven furlongs, with a late burst so visually impressive that it prompted André Fabre to withdraw his own 3-year-old from the Arc.  But in the Filly and Mare prep (Prix Vermeille), a more meaningful Group I race, last year's Arc runner-up, Shareta (Sinndar), did 1:29.50 for the first 7f.
   Shareta's final time was more than five seconds faster than the other two!
Some French journalists excuse the slow times of the first two preps since they were only a walk in the park. The trainer of Orfevre says that his horse was only 75% ready in the Prix Foy. But can a prep race be too slow to prepare a horse?
   As a red-blooded American horseplayer, I have trouble imagining that Shareta will finish behind these other two horses in the Arc, unless the surface becomes yielding. (Shareta wants firm going.) 
In last year’s Arc, Shareta was second, but she lost by a huge five lengths to Danedream (Lomitas), the German filly. Because of agonizingly unfortunate quarantine problems, my early pick Danedream has been withdrawn.
   In Ascot’s G1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth S., Danedream finished a short neck ahead of Nathaniel (Galileo), a Gosden horse that was favored in last year’s Arc until being remuctantly withdrawn because of the hard surface. With Danedream’s scratch, Nathaniel became my pick. But Nathaniel too has now been withdrawn, due to a fever. These two defections followed the withdrawal of Snow Fairy, third in last year’s edition. Perhaps we can begin speaking of a decimated field.  (Nathaniel will get ‘em back in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.) 
   Less than two lengths behind Danedream and Nathaniel at Ascot, was the O’Brien horse, St Nicolas Abbey (Montjeu), winner of last year’s GI Breeders' Cup Turf. Another Arc challenger, Sea Moon (Beat Hollow), finished fifth at Ascot, three-quarters of a length behind St Nick, and second in the BC Turf. Sea Moon would relish a soft surface.
   But one horse is single-handedly raising the GDP of several countries. An unprecedented 70 Japanese journalists have been accredited for the Arc, all of them bringing money from friends and family to bet on Orfevre.
   The 2006 Arc now looks like a dress rehearsal. Then, the Japanese odds-on fave Deep Impact finished 3rd (subsequently DQ'd from purse money from an unintentional drug infraction), and the place-show price (“placé") was higher than the win would have been. Losing win tickets on Deep Impact are collectors’ items.
   If the Deep Impact phenomenon kicks in, Orfevre may be wildly overbet, allowing the player to bet against and play several other contenders with inflated odds. If so, we must also consider Saônois, who looked the most impressive of them all on prep day, having no room throughout the long stretch, but finally rocketing through a small opening.
   Orfevre has defeated a couple of previous Japanese Arc participants. The Japanese horse Nakayama Festa was second in the 2010 Arc de Triomphe at 27-1, behind Workforce, but then 12th in the 2011 edition, with Workforce 11th. Last year’s Arc, including Shareta, came up too strong for them.
Some rain is forecast during the week, seeming to assure a less-than-firm surface. Orfevre had only one career race over a yielding surface and he won it. 
   A sleeper might be O’Brien’s Imperial Monarch, now the only Galileo horse in the field, with only four career races, three of them wins plus a big disappointment in the French Derby won by Saônois (bad start, spirited finish), Imperial Monarch came back to win the July 14 Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp. But that race rarely produces Arc winners, and the horse he beat, Fabre’s Last Train, was withdrawn from the Arc after a disappointing Prix Niel.
   Fabre’s Meandre (Slickly) is competent, but is regularly defeated by one or another of the above horses. Gosden’s Starboard (Zamindar) is a Group 3 winner against a moderate field--he can improve! Kesampour (King's Best), fifth in the Niel and a close fourth in the French Derby with much trouble, seems unlikely. But beware: the Aga Khan’s second horse often wins a big race. Two fillies that were left in the wake of Shareta in the Vermeille, Solemia (Poliglote) and Yellow and Green (Monsun), also seem unlikely. Masterstroke (Monsun), with four wins in six efforts, cannot be excluded, but the horses he’s beaten are no Group 1 quality. He’s 8/1 in the ante post.
   Finally, O’Brien’s Camelot (Montjeu), listed as possible, is getting lots of ante post action at 7/2 because he’s offered as “non-runner, no bet.” Dominating a supposedly weak 3-year-old crop, Camelot failed to win the British Triple Crown with a second in the marathon St. Leger, a race that does not produce Arc winners and was probably too long for him. If in, he figures to get overbet with all the Brits in the grandstand.       
   Orfevre has 9 wins in 15 tries and ranks sixth on the planet. His trainer Yasutoshi Ikee worked under Sir Michael Stoute and Neil Drysdale before going it alone. Taking no chances, he’s using a top French rider, Christophe Soumillon, winner of two Arcs in nine tries. Good chance, but can we take the low odds?
   Considering the potential odds differential if Orfevre is indeed overbet, Shareta’s 7/1 ante post odds would go up, as would Saônois’ 8/1. As long as the surface is either firm or good, I will make a wager of 20 Euros on Shareta (10 win/10 placé), with any winnings going to the Inflammatory Bowel Disease charity. Bet is off if soft or yielding.
See Shareta’s Tuesday workout, and watch the Aga Khan watcing:

   In the first leg of our charity ride, we cycled 149 bicycle kilometers, so we owe 51 to fulfill our promised 200 km. We will do these 51 with two round trips via the scenic route to Longchamp for the Saturday pre-Arc and Sunday Arc cards. Fifty-one kilometers does not sound like a worthy challenge except that I must ride them in a suit-and-tie: the Draconian dress code for credentialed journalists. I’ll be the only journalist arriving by bike.
   My riding/betting partner Alan Kennedy, on the other hand, is sticking to his principles. He will forego press privileges in order to dress more humanely.

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