x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Soumillon takes a tough stance over L'Arc defeat

'Head Waiter' accused of hitting accelerator with Orfevre too early but he has 'no regrets'.

Olivier Peslier riding Solemia, front, surges past Orfevre and Christophe Soumillon to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in France on Sunday.
Olivier Peslier riding Solemia, front, surges past Orfevre and Christophe Soumillon to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in France on Sunday.

Paris // As the buses sat end-to-end outside Longchamp racecourse to take more than 2,000 Japanese racegoers into the night late on Sunday, Christophe Soumillon delivered a lengthy mea culpa to the world's media.

Hours before the Belgian rider had made an audacious bid to hand Japan its first win in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe from 13 attempts.

He had taken the lead 300 metres from the line in what he felt was going to be his third victory in Europe's middle distance championship after Dalakhani (2003) and Zarkava (2008). When it mattered most, however, one of the most capable jockeys of his generation suffered for a split-second mistake that resulted in Orfevre finishing behind Olivier Peslier and Solemia, who now heads to the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita next month.

"He ran the perfect race," Soumillon said, trying in vain to pull the wool over the eyes of the assembled Japanese reporters, of which there were over 100 accredited.

"The horse was going well and when a horse goes well in the Arc you can't just sit there and wait."

Orfevre passed 12 horses in a single furlong such was the pace and power of his electrifying burst and there can be little doubt had Soumillon waited to press the accelerator, even for a split-second, then his mount would have bottomed out after the line, rather than before it.

Throughout the afternoon in the build-up to the Arc, vanquished trainers had told anyone who would listen that the going was tough.

"I don't want to repeat what Richard Hughes said but in the cleanest possible way it is very soft out there," Richard Hannon said after his Olympic Glory had won the Prix Jean-Luc Lagadere with Hughes in the saddle.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but Hughes, whose ability to ride hold-up horses has attracted the nickname "The Head Waiter", appeared to criticise Soumillon on Twitter afterwards. "If you are going well, stay going well is my motto," he wrote.

The amount of excuses Soumillon came up with during a monologue that stretched into minutes suggested that deep down the 31 year old knew he had made a mistake.

"The sort of race that he had is unprecedented in the Arc," Soumillon said. "Once I had the lead, no one could have imagined that we'd be beaten. It needed one or two better horses in the race because they were all tired. He pulled on the reins a lot. The overconfidence in him defeated us.

"He stopped because the ground was so heavy and as everyone knows he is too clever and cheeky sometimes.

"If he had stayed straight he would have won the Arc by three or four lengths. I am sorry but I have no regrets."

Last season, Soumillon rode Cirrus Des Aigles to victory in the Champion Stakes at Ascot.

He was on Princess Haya's Colombian, who finished fourth, when the six year old powered to a nine-length success in the Prix Dollar with Peslier aboard here on Saturday.

Cirrus Des Aigles is set to defend his title against Frankel in a two weeks but Soumillon would prefer to be on another runner.

"For me it was a great moment to ride a horse like him. He is honestly the best horse I have ever ridden, even [than] Zarkava. I have never seen a horse have such a turn of foot that kills everyone in a few strides like that.

"The Yoshida family [the owners] are a great sporting family and I thank them for bringing the horse to the Arc. His career is not over and he is a horse that will always be remembered.

"It's sad because he's got huge potential. I hope he'll run against Frankel in the Champion Stakes, or else in the Japan Cup."