PARIS // There was no fairy-tale victory for Japan in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Sunday as Olivier Peslier aboard Solemia stole the world's richest turf race from under the nose of Christophe Soumillon and Orfevre.
Orfevre hit the front with 300 metres to go and looked to power clear but Peslier, who was winning his fourth Arc, galvanised his mount to reel in his rival to win at the line for the trainer Carlos Laffon-Parias.
It was the third time Japan had produced the runner-up in the Arc since El Condor Pasa was second to Montjeu in 1999. Nakayama Festa found Workforce too good in 2010 and with Deep Impact demoted from third place in 2006, the feeling from the legions of Japanese racing fans was of total shell shock.
This was supposed to be their time.
The trainer Yasutoshi Ikee was disconsolate at the loss afterwards.
His father, Yasuo, had trained Deep Impact, a Triple Crown winner like Orfevre, and although some find strength in numbers, Ikee took the defeat very personally.
"We are very disappointed. I thought 15 metres out that he would surely win," Ikee told a crowd of tearful Japanese.
"Japan will be proud, but it is the trainer's duty to win and second is not good enough."
Soumillon was anchored out the back of the 18-runner field having been placed in the widest gate of all and the Belgian jockey stalked the pace.
In contrast, Peslier used all his experience of his previous wins and placed Solemia in fourth on the inside rail.
Soumillon made his move 500 metres out as the field entered the false straight and the pair sailed past Godolphin France's Masterstroke, who held on for third under Mickael Barzalona.
By his own admission Peslier began to ride for a place but as the rain-affected going began to take its toll, Orfevre faltered and started to hang so badly to his right that he scraped the rail despite Soumillon urging with his whip.
"I thought when I was passed that he would go on to win," Peslier said.
"I then thought I would ride for second or third, but then I saw him stop and I thought, 'I've got this'. I stopped riding for a place and went on to win."
It was a particularly bitter pill to swallow for Japan, as Peslier has had a long association with the country.
He has won the Japan Cup twice, but has also helped the country to further its racing interests abroad. He partnered Hat Trick to win the Hong Kong Cup and Mile Championship for Katsuhiko Sumii, the Dubai World Cup-winning trainer, in 2005.
He also rode Red Desire to take Round Three of the Al Maktoum Challenge at Meydan Racecourse two seasons ago for Mikio Matsunaga .
"I spent so much time in Japan," Peslier said. "I thought Orfevre would win the race before it started. I feel for the Japanese but that's racing."
Peslier joined legendary riders such as Freddy Head, Yves Saint-Martin and Pat Eddery to have won four Arcs, after he had a hat-trick of victories with Helissio in 1996, Peintre Celebre and Sagamix.
"I feel very honoured and seeing as I am still riding and they are not," Peslier said. "Perhaps I will set the record next time!"
A SMART 1-2 ADDS UP IN QATAR'S CLEAN SWEEP
Julian Smart secured a second consecutive victory in the Qatar Arabian World Cup when Mkeefa easily accounted for stablemate Rathowan in the second most valuable race on the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe card.
With €700,000 (Dh3.3 million) up for grabs Smart had entered seven purebred Arabians but such was the ease with which Mkeefa took the Group 1 contest that his jockey Neil Callan afforded a showboating celebration as his mount crossed the line.
Tabarak, trained by Alban de Mieulle, was third to complete a clean sweep for Qatari horses.
"This is the best racecourse in the world to win at," Smart said.
"It's very important to Qatar that I have won the race, and had the second, especially after Areej last year.
"I don't really know what to say, but how do I feel? It feels just as good as last year."
Callan looked to have taken notes from Olivier Peslier, who had won the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe 55 minutes earlier, as he placed his mount on the rail about four horses down the field.
Mkeefa had been supplemented during the week after Callan had pressed very hard to get the ride in the race, and his faith was justified as they pulled four lengths clear at the line.
Smart has packed up his European operation, having been based in England for much of the summer, and will return to Qatar this morning.
Mkeefa will have some rest with the rest of the string, who will be transported to Doha on Thursday.
With Mkeefa only a four year old there is every chance she will be back in 12 months to defend her title.
"I hope she will win it next year," Smart added. "She's only four and will be a lot better next time."
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