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Orfevre reigns as Japan's new superstar in Arima Kinen

Orfevre has his sights set on the 2012 Arc (Japan Racing Association)
Japanese Triple Crown hero Orfevre mowed down a world-class field of older horses in Sunday's Grade 1 Arima Kinen, stamping his passport for the world stage in 2012. In a symbolic passing of the torch, reigning Horse of the Year Buena Vista could do no better than seventh in her career finale, and was regaled at a poignant retirement ceremony following the Christmas racing at Nakayama.

Orfevre was making his first start against his elders in the season-ending "Grand Prix," but had no difficulty in racking up his sixth straight victory. In the process, he handed trainer Yasutoshi Ikee a JRA record-equaling fifth Grade 1 win in a single season.

While the Sunday Racing Co. colorbearer was responsible for four of them -- his Triple Crown sweep along with the Arima Kinen -- his stablemate Tosen Jordan also contributed through his score in the Grade 1 Tenno Sho Autumn on October 30.

Orfevre's victory was historic in other ways as well. He is a full brother to 2009 Arima Kinen winner Dream Journey, also trained by Ikee. Both were sired by Stay Gold from the winning Mejiro McQueen mare Oriental Art, who now ranks as the only mare to produce two different winners of the Arima Kinen.

Moreover, Orfevre became the third Japanese Triple Crown winner to capture the Arima Kinen in the same year. The first to record such a grand slam was Symboli Rudolf (1984), the recently-deceased Japanese legend. In the interim, only Narita Brian (1994) was able to follow in his hoofsteps. Even Deep Impact failed in his quest in 2005.

Orfevre, dispatched as the 6-5 favorite, wasn't helped by the way the Arima Kinen unfolded. Loping along near the rear after the start, the chestnut lagged farther behind than regular rider Kenichi Ikezoe would have preferred. But the in-form jockey didn't panic, or rush the colt, and let him settle where he was comfortable.

Up front, Earnestly was waltzing through slow fractions. Defending champion Victoire Pisa stalked in second, and Buena Vista was uncharacteristically close in a rail-skimming third. She raced in tandem with Tosen Jordan, so the respective top two from the Grade 1 Japan Cup looked ready to engage in another battle. As it turned out, neither could raise their game when the race started in earnest entering the homestretch.

Earnestly and Victoire Pisa tussled at the top of the lane, but despite their early crawl, they had surprisingly little left to withstand the closers. Eishin Flash, who had been well placed just off the pace, was the first to join them. Wider out, however, erupted Orfevre.

Having circled the bulk of the field on the final turn, Orfevre continued his momentum into the stretch and rolled past Eishin Flash. His winning margin was just three-quarters of a length, but his manner of victory was decisive. The final time was a pedestrian 2:36 for the about 1 9/16 miles on firm turf, reflecting the lack of any sensible pace. Orfevre's true quality was revealed by his final three-furlong burst, in a blistering :33.3.

"The horse was calm entering the track for the post parade, so I knew he would do well," Ikezoe said. "We fell behind a bit at the break and had to race further back on the inside than I had wanted to, but I was able to steer him to the outside in the backstretch.

"I moved him forward through the third corner, and the colt stretched really well outrunning his rivals in the final stretch. He's still a young horse -- he was born later than the horses of the same age group -- but he is growing and getting better day by day."

Eishin Flash held second by a neck from the fast-finishing To the Glory, a stablemate of Orfevre's who gave Ikee a one-three finish in the Arima Kinen. Rulership also flew late for fourth. Ikee saddled three of the top five finishers, for Tosen Jordan crossed the wire in fifth. Hiruno d'Amour, Buena Vista, Victoire Pisa, Red Davis, Earnestly, Jaguar Mail, Rose Kingdom and King Top Gun rounded out the order of finish. Pelusa was scratched because of a stone bruise to his left front hoof.

Orfevre likely wrapped up Horse of the Year honors (Japanese Racing Association)
Orfevre improved his record to 11-7-2-1, 818,978,000. A debut winner at two, he took time to find his feet at the graded level. Orfevre opened his sophomore season with placings in the Grade 3 Nikkan Sports Sho Shinzan Kinen and the Grade 3 Kisaragi Sho, then acquired the winning habit in the Grade 2 Spring Stakes. He hasn't lost since.

After conquering the Grade 1 Satsuki Sho (Japanese Two Thousand Guineas) and Grade 1 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby), Orfevre went on his summer vacation. He returned with an emphatic success in the Grade 2 Kobe Shimbun Hai, his prep for the Grade 1 Kikuka Sho (Japanese St Leger), where he toyed with the field to sweep the Triple Crown.

"During the short break he was given after winning the Kikuka Sho (on October 23), he was able to loosen up and relax," Ikee said. "His conditioning went smoothly after returning to the Ritto Training Center and everything went well up to this race. He lost some weight when he arrived here, but I lost all doubts after seeing how he was with my own eyes."

Ikee plans to take on the world with Orfevre, who has presumably clinched Japan's Horse of the Year title.

"As I've said before, we are aiming for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, but are also examining the possibilities of racing him in Dubai in March," the trainer said.


 


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