PARIS // The part played by sport in helping heal a grief-stricken Japan after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March is sometimes exaggerated. But the emotion was tangible at Meydan Racecourse when Victoire Pisa won in the Dubai World Cup seven months ago.
Victoire Pisa missed a chance to stamp his authority on the European racing scene due to injury, but Nakayama Festa flies the flag for the country at Longchamp on Sunday in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
Five years ago, Deep Impact flew west from the Land of the Rising Sun with an entourage of fans that made a huge impression on the chic Parisien racetrack.
Hundreds of Japanese wore the black, blue and yellow colours sported that day by Yutaka Take, the jockey.
Yet despite 10 wins in his previous 11 runs, the son of Sunday Silence deflated the expectations of his supporters by finishing behind Rail Link and Pride, and Deep Impact was later disqualified after a drugs test.
Since then a Japanese horse has not been mentioned in dispatches - until Nakayama Festa ran Workforce to a head last year.
Nakayama Festa then suffered an internal haemorrhage in the back of his left foreleg during the Japan Cup in November and was not seen again until finishing last of four in the Prix Foy here last month.
Uncharacteristically, the five year old set the pace under Masayoshi Ebina, his regular rider, but was cut down inside Longchamp's short straight by three of Sunday's rivals - Sarafina, St Nicholas Abbey and his fellow Japanese raider, Hiruno D'Amour.
"There will be 16 runners in the Arc, so it will be very different," Yoshitaka Ninomiya, the trainer of Nakayama Festa, said yesterday.
"No horse wanted to lead, and as the jockey wanted to run to that pace he ended up leading.
"We had some unexpected happenings before the Prix Foy that disrupted training, but this time everything has gone according to plan. He's relaxed and his movement is good."
Nakayama Festa's run into second was not the first time Ninomiya has come close to securing Europe's middle-distance championship.
In 1999 he sent over El Condor Pasa, who just failed to outstay Montjeu, the sire that produced St Nicholas Abbey.
Aidan O'Brien's charge has been shunted out of the limelight by So You Think, his stablemate, who along with Snow Fairy and Sarafina received a wide draw on Friday.
All three horses have their staunch support, and given their propensity to be ridden off the pace the drawback of being wide on Longchamp's sweeping bends is not the inconvenience it might be for more prominent racers.
Nakayama Festa is drawn widest of all, however, but emerging from stall one will be Hiruno D'Amour under Shinji Fujita.
"It's been my dream. It's the race I consider the No 1 in the world," the 39-year-old Fujita said this week.
"It's taken 21 years, but I've finally got my chance. We've got the world as our competition, but I think we're the best. I believe in Hiruno D'Amour.
"The only thing for me to do is ride him like I always do."
RIDDLE'S LOOK AT THE CARD
Qatar Prix du Cadran - 3.10pm
Kasbah Bliss has raced all over the world and is now nine-years old. Francois Doumen’s charge was good enough to finish fourth the Dubai City of Gold in March behind Monterosso, the subsequent Dubai World Cup third. He may struggle to hold Brigantin, who beat Opinion Poll earlier this season.
Qatar Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp - 3.45pm
Khalifa bin Dasmal’s Prohibit and Margot Did, both Dubai Carnival-bound, clearly are the best horses in the race after their Group 1 success this season. The L’Abbaye often goes to a horse that has yet to win at the highest level, however, and the three-year-old Whizz Kid could continue the trend.
Total Prix Marcel Boussac – 4.20pm
The filly Zarkava won this as a juvenile before progressing to win the Arc, so it is a race of the highest calibre. Keiren Fallon could not have been more impressed with Falls Of Lora when they won at Ascot last month but Zatenda and Elusive Kate are improving rapidly.
Qatar Prix Jean-Luc Lagadere - 4.55pm
Frankie Dettori gushed about the French colt Dabirsim when the pair took the Group 1 Prix Morny by three lengths in August. So Fast, trained by Freddie Head, was fourth that day and is probably good enough to beat the five other horses in the race. This should be Dettori’s for the taking.
Qatar Prix De La Foret – 5.30pm
Can Khalifa bin Dasmal’s Dream Ahead give Goldikova, the triple Breeders’ Cup-winning mare, a pound in weight and a beating? Despite the liberal watering policy at Longchamp the going is against Dream Ahead, but don’t be surprised if Frankie Dettori coaxes a big run out of Worthadd.
Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe – 6.15pm
Virtually every owner and trainer can justifiably feel that they have got a realistic chance in a wide-open Arc. Workforce bids to become the first horse to win back-to-back Arcs since Alleged in 1978 and considering his lame effort in the King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes was much better than last season's attempt it is surprising the four-year-old has been so overlooked. So You Think, Snow Fairy and Sarafina have a difficult task with their wide draw but Galikova looks to have everything going for her.
Qatar Prix L’Opera – 7.45pm
A tricky finale with many fillies looking to have peaked earlier in the season. There is a danger that the tough Royal Ascot winner, Banimpire, has finally gone over the top, and the same could be said for Glorious Sight. Epic Love, trained by Pascal Bary, the Dubai World Cup-winning trainer, looks to be going the right way but Frankie Dettori could be lucky in the last on Nahrain.